Mixed-adults shelter determined to repair reputation in the Danforth-St. Clair community

A Scarborough facility that caters to clients with mental health and substance abuse issues has moved to reassure residents of the Danforth Road and St. Clair Avenue East area that it has been, and will continue to be, a safe, responsible neighbour.

“We’ve taken steps to educate our residents,” Patricia Mueller, the shelter’s executive director said. “We’re monitoring the area.”

“We’ve told our residents that if we catch them panhandling we will assist them with moving on to another shelter,” Mueller added.

Homes First Society shelter, located at 3576 St Clair Ave., is a 60-bed facility that caters to both adult men and women. The operators called a community meeting at Corvette Public School in Scarborough on Wed., March 28, to discuss how they will assist with community safety.

We commit to you tonight that we will listen and do whatever we need to do, to be a good member of the community

— Patricia Mueller

Concerns in the community spiked following two high-profile attacks in nearby Pine Hills Cemetery.

Last July, a 61-year-old woman was beaten and sexually assaulted in the cemetery. Donald Constantine Jackson, 71, died after he too was beaten, in September.

Residents reacted and public pressure spurred Scarborough city councillor Michelle Berardinetti to call a town meeting last November to address the community’s concerns.

Only half of the 26 people at the second meeting were members of the affected community.

“We commit to you tonight that we will listen and do whatever we need to do, to be a good member of the community,” Mueller said.

One resident at the meeting voiced concerns about the addictions of the shelter’s clientele and the free access they have in the community.  He questioned the wisdom of a shelter being so close to the school.

The man wanted the shelter closed before any more incidents happen, but Berardinetti explained that it’s not possible.

“I don’t have the power to remove the shelter,” she said. “The reality is that it’s here. What we are going to do is make it better.”

Berardinetti explained that the area was zoned for a shelter and they are not in conflict with their landlords, so the community must work with the shelter operators, the police from 41 Division as well as crime prevention organizations to ensure safety.

Janet Sherbanowski from Crime Prevention Association of Toronto (CPAT), agreed with the councillor. She said it was unfortunate that the shelter is beside a school but won’t be relocated.

“You are not going to be able to kick these people out,” Sherbanowski said. “However, you are going to be able to make the law enforce the law.

“The best defense you have is working with the shelter to identify people who might cause problem in the community.”

But not everyone wants the shelter gone. Jonathan Schmidt, another resident, said the problem is that the community members are “painting everyone with the same brush.”

“There are people in the community that support this,” Schmidt said. “They are decent people.”

He thinks that if the Danforth and St. Clair Avenue East community makes an effort to know the residents, they will see that the shelter does the community more good than harm.