Elderly men ask Toronto’s budget chiefs to spare their shelter

David Smith has lived at Birchmount Residence for over two years. On Wednesday, he told Toronto City Hall’s budget committee that he and the residents of the shelter for men 55 and over, are safe and comfortable.

But with looming cuts in Toronto’s 2012 budget, the shelter that houses 53 others may have to close it’s doors and they will be out on Toronto’s mean streets, again.

Birchmount, along with Bellwood’s, a shelter for women in crisis, and Downsview Dells are facing imminent closure. Smith said the closures will force all those residents back to downtown shelters, where they feel unsafe, or the streets.

Smith, along with two other Birchmount residents, told a packed public session and those city councillors who sit on the budget committee, that the residence offers stability to many vulnerable people:

“We have gentlemen there who are mentally, physically handicapped, people there who have no legs, one leg,” he said. “People in the community like us and know us well and they’re devastated that we may be closed.”

Coun. Del Grande however appeared unmoved, and he asked the public to offer alternative funding arrangements.

“Everybody is basically ‘saying we want you to continue the spending level but we don’t have any suggestions for you,;you figure it out’,” he said.

“If we can get our spending in line then that allows us the opportunity to start re-investing, but we cannot continue right now at the level we find ourselves in, which is expenditures over revenue.”

Beaches-East York councillor Janet Davis suggested that Birchmount residents could move to Seaton House if their shelter closed down.

Smith, along with many other men from Birchmount, has lived at Seaton House, but because of their age and disabilities, the downtown facility is not an option.

“The streets around Seaton House are extremely unsafe,” he said. “There’s a lot of crime, a lot of drugs.”

In order to cut back at Birchmount, Smith suggested decreasing the number of supervisors during the evening and midnight shifts.

Close to 350 people were scheduled to speak on the first day of a two-day public budget session, held at City Hall’s Committee Room 1. Two hundred speakers are scheduled to pitch their ideas to the committee on Thursday.