A detox facility in the western end of Toronto, hailed as a lifesaving service for women facing retirement, has been told it will soon have to close its doors – leaving healthcare professionals struggling to find a time crunch to find a new one place.
But one possible possibility, a small hotel rented by the city and used as homeless shelter under COVID-19, has been met with unexpected decline.
“Police have repeatedly stressed that the location on Dundas Street East 376 will be very problematic for them,” councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam wrote in a letter to the health organization that took over the detox operations, back in July.
“51 Division does not have the resources and can not protect vulnerable women and future clients at the Retreat Center if you move this service to an area already plagued by unmanageable violence and public drug trafficking.”
The saga has ignited smoldering tensions in downtown Toronto in the east, with some lamenting the concentration of social services in the area and others pointing to their necessity. Now, clockwise, a slate of Torontonians – from women who have leaned on the detox center to potential new neighbors – are anxiously awaiting answers about Women’s Own, the only service of its kind in the city.
“It’s a huge staple in society,” said Mackenzie Arruda, a psychiatric staffer who credits the detox with not only saving her life but also the lives of countless others.
The nearest OHIP-covered detox center for women only is in Hamilton, Arruda said. Although there are gaps, she worries vulnerable women — including survivors of gender-based violence or human trafficking — may feel insecure by turning to them for help.
Detox dates back to 1998 and has been operated by the University Health Network at 892 Dundas St. W. and Trinity-Bellwoods. But UHN says its landlord has expressed interest in remodeling and it was unable to withdraw from a lease for when their current one expires on November 30th.
Although the organization received a $ 175,000 planning grant from the province in 2017 while considering consolidating the detox with other services, UHN spokeswoman Alexa Giorgi said a request for more funding – to cover relocation and operating costs for the consolidated services to be operated in near Toronto Western Hospital – was not approved in 2019. UHN says it has arranged to transfer control of the service to Unity Health and Michael Garron Hospital due to its funding problems, which take effect Oct. 1.
(The province, meanwhile, says a submission of capital funding from UHN was still ongoing until it decided to transfer the program.)
The new plan is for some beds to be operated by Michael Garron, and the program will be expanded to 32 beds in total from 22. But not all of the new beds will be immediately available. Mental health director Raj Sohi said six temporary beds will open on Danforth Ave 989 while a new 16-bed center is being renovated to open at the city’s east end in January.
The rest of the beds moving from the Bellwoods facility will need a new location. That was when the hotel in Moss Park came into the picture, at 376 Dundas St.
“My immediate, original reaction was ‘it’s great,'” Wong-Tam said in an interview. But at that meeting, she and others said the police officers present delivered a sharp warning. “Police have no doubt said, ‘we can not keep your customers safe,'” she said.
Wong-Tam then recounted the warnings, which she says were repeated by police at other meetings, in a letter to Unity Health President and CEO Tim Rutledge dated July 6.
The Toronto police also quoted that the concentration of social services in the area has reached a point where we have serious doubts about the effectiveness of a program that will allow clients to undergo two weeks of withdrawal, recovery and peace. , “she wrote.
Toronto’s downtown East has long provided a concentration of social services to those in need, including homeless shelters, drop-ins, food banks and overdose prevention.
Toronto Police said in a statement that it was neither for nor against the site, but that its resources should be allocated to the area in each police shift “due to the disproportionate number of calls to service and victims compared to the rest of the division.”
Will Greaves, who owns an apartment next to 376 Dundas, says his building has long been surrounded by social services and that he supported the hotel’s use as a shelter.
“The need for it is very clear to us,” he said. “It’s part of the structure of life in this neighborhood.”
But police warnings about detox left him wondering if it was Moss Park’s eye of convenience – he suspected it could cause less friction than locating a detox center in other areas – at the expense of those battling addiction who may appear at its door.
“We want these things to succeed wherever they go,” he said.
Zoe Dodd, who has worked at Moss Park for several years on overdose prevention, challenges the idea that social services are unfairly clustered in the center of the East.
“This is where low-income people live in these areas,” she said of Moss Park. Many women undergoing homelessness could benefit from detox services, she said, and there was currently no women’s opportunity for them in the East Center.
“We build services where people are. It’s not like the eastern part of the city is easy to get services in, it’s like … why should it not be close to other services that people can access and their others support? ”
But Arruda is also nervous. “I have a lot of concerns about that neighborhood,” she said, noting that it seemed like an easier area to acquire or be tempted by illegal drugs.
“When choosing a place for vulnerable women, most of them have already experienced trauma … you need to be careful when choosing the area,” she said. “Personally, most of the women I know will not walk past Church Street when they walk on Dundas because of the fear of being assaulted and the trauma they have been subjected to in that neighborhood.”
Unity Health stressed in a statement that it had not yet signed a lease for a site, as several were being considered. The effort now involves more real estate agents and the city’s real estate agency, CreateTO. But Unity Health also highlighted the risk of keeping the detox offline for too long.
“This is a life-saving program and it’s already too little for women at the center,” it wrote in an email to Star.
For Jessica Rogers, another woman who has previously used the Women’s Own detox center, the existence of the facility is paramount. When news of the closure of the original site first surfaced, Rogers worried that a void would be left for women and non-binaries.
It felt particularly important in the midst of COVID-19, Rogers said, as a mental crisis is on the way and is exacerbated by an exponential increase in overdose deaths.
“Leaving such gaps in care indefinitely would be very dangerous to society.”