If you want your faith in political leadership restored, listen to the words of Mayor Tory at the tail end of a 15-hour Executive Committee meeting.
The item ought to have been a routine one: approving the lease for the much-needed Runnymede Men’s Shelter. Council had already approved the location. The community had been extensively consulted. Yet it looked as if the deal could be derailed in a quibble over minor details.
So how heartening to hear Mayor Tory call it. He said,
“I don’t think we’re being honest about what is really on the table here. . . . really by sending the lease back, probably we’re going to put this arrangement that has been years in the making at peril. And I think that is really what the idea is here.”
Runnymede Shelter is an example of everything wrong with the old way of siting shelters. Raucous town halls. Cutting the number of beds from 100 to 50, effectively doubling the costs to shelter the same number of men. Four pages worth of sweeteners – one neighbourhood resident called them “bribes” – that have increasingly become the City’s new price of doing business. If you want to build a shelter, you need to pay off the neighbours.
As of right means as of right
In today’s Star, Edward Keenan’s excellent article reminds us all of the moral imperative: “There is a need, across the city. An emergency. It is the responsibility of us, across the city, to meet that need.”
We would add there is also a legal imperative. The City’s Shelter By-law, as approved by the OMB back in 2004 says, “municipal shelters shall be permitted in all zones or districts in the City of Toronto” provided they comply with other applicable zoning restrictions, are on a major or minor arterial road and are located at least 250 meters from another shelter.
No public meetings. No buying off the neighbours. No Council approval required.
In other words, shelters would be treated just like any other residence. If you meet the zoning requirements, you just go ahead. Any other public consultation is entirely voluntary – a way to create good will and better outcomes for the shelter and the neighbourhood.
Last April, Council approved a new approach to welcoming homeless shelters — an approach that makes clear the site is not subject to public approval, but that the public’s help is needed to make these services a success.”
It’s an approach that can’t come soon enough.