Cleaning up — and smoothing over

Friends of Kennedy House picked up some garbage during a spring community cleanup — and hopefully turned over a new leaf in shelter-neighbour relations.

Michael Vibert and Constable Fitzroy Parker
Volunteer Michael Vibert, left, and Toronto Police Const. Fitzroy Parker of 54 Division sweep the street along Pape Avenue during a recent spring community cleanup organized by the Friends of Kennedy House. (Jelicia Saulter/Toronto Observer)

There has been occasional tension between nearby residents and occupants of the youth shelter — formerly known as “Touchstone” and located at 1076 Pape Ave. So one of the stated intentions of the end-of-March cleanup was to ease that tension.

“Historically the community of Pape and Cosburn had some issues with the previous tenants at the shelter at 1076 Pape,” said one of the cleanup organizers, Const. Fitzroy Parker of Toronto police 54 Division. Referring to Touchstone, he added: “When that shelter left, many of the residents did not want another shelter to come in. Once this new shelter was slated to come in we had numerous community meetings where a lot of the community residents voiced their displeasure of having a new tenant operating a shelter in the area.”

Catering to male and female residents between the ages of 16 and 23 can be challenging, especially when some come with “baggage.” But Parker said that since Kennedy House’s opening last spring, “I can tell you that the police have had a significant drop in the amount calls for service and the amount of reports from residents at the shelter and that’s due to the philosophy of management. Making sure the residents are responsible in the area and accountable in the area. And one of the things we as police want to do in the area is show some of the good work that these guys here in the shelter are doing and this is one of the events I came up with. With the spring thaw revealing a lot of the garbage in the area I thought it would be a nice gesture to have some of the staff and the residents along with the police and any community members.”

Also present were other officers from the division and ward 29/Toronto-Danforth councillor Mary Fragedakis.

There were still a few awkward moments; although police volunteered to participate on their own time, some passersby still yelled about tax dollars being wasted on garbage pickup. But, generally, things went smoothly.

The shelter supervisor of Kennedy House, Louis Davis, also volunteered his time to help with the cleanup, to, as he put it, “break that gap between the police and the youth that we service in the shelter.”

He added that a small contingent of the shelter’s young occupants also participated.

“We had a couple of the youth come out,” Davis said. “Our mission today was to be part of the community, and hopefully the youth can see police aren’t just here to arrest people, but they’re also here to serve and protect.”

Volunteer Michael Vibert wanted to give back to his former residence.

“Having the residents outside of the shelter and seeing people doing something positive from Kennedy House… is something that most people around here wouldn’t want to do themselves,” Vibert said. “If you see someone from the shelter doing this residents are going to have a more positive image of them.”

“We want to refresh the area and show the residents that these guys are here, they’re going to make a positive dent in the community and that we can all work together to maintain the sense of community,” said Const. Parker.