Save the School House

Save the School House Shelter FAQ

A campaign for shelter and housing in Toronto’s Downtown East neighborhood.

What is happening:

The City is moving to close down the School House shelter on George St, a 55 bed men's harm reduction facility that has provided shelter in the Toronto Downtown East community for decades. It is one of the oldest facilities, a flagship as a safe use site, and has been a staple of the neighborhood since the 1970’s. 55 beds might not seem like a lot, but that’s on top of HUNDREDS of shelter beds we have already lost in this neighborhood. Once a space is closed and residents are moved out, those beds are not replaced. This means that an already over-stressed shelter system will be pushed to the brink. The city is in a housing crisis, people are on the streets, we need more and better services, not less.

Harm Reduction:

The loss of a 'wet' shelter (i.e. one that permits some alcohol to be consumed on site) will mean that homeless people who drink will be forced to do so outside, in the parks and in the alleyways. This will put people at risk of criminalization – they will be given tickets that they cannot pay and be thrown in the Don Jail when they fail to pay those tickets. This will also mean that in the winter, when they should have the option to drink in a safe and warm place, people will be forced outside, at risk of freezing to death, like too many have already in this city as a result of government cuts and anti-poor policies. Most shelter spaces won’t let guys take in their drinks but the School House is a unique harm reduction program for men who drink and this saves lives. It provides front-line staff on-site, a health care provider visits, and access to services.

The School House Shelter may remain open… for now: Important Update!

*Mobilization continues for Wednesday, November 14th, 9am Moss Park!*

See more info about the demonstration here.
See the Now article here.

Due to overwhelming pressure and mobilization by the community against the closure of the Schoolhouse Shelter, we have received news that the Schoolhouse may remain open… for now. The City of Toronto is putting forward a report and recommendations this coming Wednesday, November 14th at the Community Development Committee that will see the Schoolhouse shelter on George St. remain open as an emergency men`s shelter with 40 beds for at least the foreseeable future. (See that report here.)

This is important step for the campaign to Save the Schoolhouse shelter and shows that mobilization and fighting back can and will win! While we want to be able to celebrate this as a total and complete victory, we have to be cautious and here are the reasons why:

1) This is a temporary decision: they say that it is `pending upcoming CHPI [Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative] community consultations`. The CHPI is a result of cuts and changes in provincial funding, including the devastating cut to the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit. The decision making around the future of the Schoolhouse, Seaton House next door, and ALL of George St, is being rolled in to these upcoming ‘community consultations’. The reality is that funding has and is being cut from the Province down to the City – so we can expect the fight for shelters and services for poor people is about to get a whole lot bigger.

Hands Off The School House Shelter!

UPDATE from August 23 Action to Stop The Closing of The School House Shelter!

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The City is determined to close down the 55 bed School House wet shelter on George Street. Already most of those staying there have been forced out and much needed shelter beds are sitting empty.

How can you fight back?

Rally, Free Meal And March To Save The School House: August 23rd (details below)

Community Meeting To Stop The Closing of The School House Shelter: August 16 (details below)

Local councillor, Kristyn Wong Tam, and fellow councillors on the Community and Recreation Committee, have led efforts to put a lock on the door of the School House shelter. They claim that this is not a cut and want us to believe that they will spend the money they save by closing School House on new ‘housing initiatives’. We know better. This is a huge cut to a vital service in the midst of a crisis - the waiting list for Toronto Housing is 10 years long, shelters are already overcrowded with tensions flaring up, and people's health and lives are on the line.

Closing School House is not about saving money or reallocating resources. The truth is that decisions like this are made to benefit rich developers who are moving in on the Downtown East neighborhood. First the shelters close and then the condos go up. This can’t be allowed to happen. We can’t lose this shelter and we have to fight for it to stay open. This is the place where we draw a line.

Community Meeting to Save The School House Shelter! July 17th

COMMUNITY MEETING to SAVE THE SCHOOL HOUSE SHELTER!
Tuesday, July 17th
6pm @ Parliament Street Library (Gerrard and Parliament)

*snacks, childcare, and tokens provided
*download the event poster and flyer at the end of this article

On June 26, we organized a mass delegation to the the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council. The room was filled with homeless people, allies and a range of people spoke against the City`s plan to close the 55 bed School House Shelter. The Committee heard powerful testimony from those who are forced to rely on the shelter system, front line advocates, union locals representing workers in the neighborhood, and social agencies. It was pointed out by several speakers that this meeting was happening in the same month that conditions in Seaton House men`s shelter led to a violent outburst in which a man was beaten severely with a fire extinguisher, while another homeless man was found dead on Parliament Street.

Despite this, the committee voted to proceed with shutting the School House down.

This fight doesn't end here. Everything now depends on a community based mobilization in the downtown east and beyond to save the School House.

'Left' City Councillors Vote To Close School House Shelter

Community Must Now Fight To Save It!

On June 26, OCAP organized a mass delegation to the meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council. We filled the place with homeless people and their allies and a range of speakers condemned the City`s plan to close the 55 bed School House Shelter. The Committee heard from those who are forced to rely on the shelter system, front line advocates, union locals representing workers in the neighborhood, social agencies and, of course, from OCAP.

The testimony that was provided to the Committee left no room for any member of it to pretend that he or she was not fully informed as to the vital need for this shelter or the terrible impact of closing it. 55 shelter beds are at stake in a community where they are desperately needed. Indeed, the need for shelter space across the City is greater than ever. People who experience the misery and unbearable tension of the shelters spoke to the serious overcrowding and appalling conditions that exist throughout the system. Health professionals and service providers spelt out the importance of the particular features of the School House and the role it has played as a `wet` shelter (i.e. one that permits some alcohol to be consumed on site) in saving lives. It was pointed out by several speakers that, if the Committee permitted this shelter to close, they would be taking this decision the same month that conditions in the main Seaton House men`s shelter led to a violent outburst in which a man was beaten severely with a fire extinguisher, while another homeless man was found dead on Parliament Street.

Despite all this, the Committee voted to proceed with the depopulating and closing of the School House. It must be stated that it was not a bunch of Rob Ford loyalists who did this. Despite being chaired by right wing, Giorgio Mammoliti, the Community Development and Recreation Committee is dominated by `progressive` opponents of Ford and his allies. These include the Councillor in whose ward the School House is located, Kristyn Wong Tam. She presented a face saving amendment that speaks of `re-investing` the resources that will be freed up by locking up the School House. How this will done, when this will be done and where are all unclear but we can be sure it won`t be happening in her ward if Wong Tam and her developer friends have anything to do with it.

Toronto Sells Off Housing and Abandons The Homeless


The ugliness of the austerity agenda is becoming clearer in Toronto. In this year’s Provincial budget we saw cuts to Social Assistance benefits, including the Community Start-Up, which presently allows 16,000 people a month to obtain or maintain housing. It is a measure that can only worsen the crisis of homelessness in Toronto and across Ontario. Last week, the Provincial Housing Minister caved into pressure from the Ford Administration and approved the sale of 65 units of public housing in this City. Hundreds more are in danger of going the same way and, indeed, the destruction of public housing is the logical end result of this political direction.

The very same week that this shameless act took place, two tragedies came to light among the homeless population. In overcrowded Seaton House shelter, tensions exploded and a man was beaten severely with a fire extinguisher in what appears to have been a dispute over whether to leave open a door to a dormitory in which there was no air conditioning. Such violent incidents are, more and more, coming to the attention of those who rely on the shelter system, and those who provide services to the homeless. Then, the body of a homeless man was found in an alcove on Parliament Street. It appears that he had crawled in there and died. Only the smell of his decomposing body led to his being found weeks after he had passed.

On June 26, the Community Services and Recreation Committee of Toronto City Council will meet and consider community delegations urging them to overturn a decision of their hostel staff to close a 55 bed shelter that is located right next door to the above mentioned Seaton House. The School House shelter has provided beds for homeless men for decades. It has been run as a ‘wet’ shelter that allows residents to bring in and consume alcohol. This has contributed significantly to preventing street deaths.

Save The School House Shelter: Mass Delegation to City Council, June 26!


City Hall (Bay and Queen), Tuesday, June 26th, 9:30 AM
Free breakfast served from 8:30 AM

The City is moving to close down the School House shelter on George St, a 55 bed men's harm reduction facility that has provided shelter in the Toronto Downtown East community for decades. It is one of the few 'wet' shelters in Toronto, and those who stay there may have a drink. It has saved lives over the years.

OCAP, the Downtown East Committee of Stop the Cuts, the Harm Reduction Alliance and others in the community are challenging this decision. We have gone to the last two meetings of the City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee and continue to force this issue in to the light of day. After unnecessary delay and some under handed tactics, the issue is coming to the Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 26th once and for all. We need everyone to join us on this day in a mass delegation to show our strength and support that the School House shelter remain open and operating in the Downtown East!

An Open Letter To Kristyn Wong Tam On The School House Shelter


June 5, 2012

Dear Councillor Wong Tam:

As you will be very much aware, the fifty five bed School House Shelter on George Street is presently being cleared of residents so as to close it down. As you also know, this matter will be dealt with at the June 26th meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee. On that day, you and the other members of the Committee will finally be called upon to take a position on this vital question. On that basis, we would like you, as the Councillor for the area in which the shelter is located, to consider very carefully what stand you will take.

Obviously, the original intention of the Hostel Services administration was to close the School House without asking for any decision by the City Council. In this regard, we acknowledge that you have certainly shown that you are ready to facilitate community input at the Committee level. However, to be blunt, people in the downtown east are not taking up this issue because they like making deputations at City Hall. They are mobilizing in their community to keep the School House open and a question that concerns them is whether or not they can count on the support of their local Councillor. As we understand it, these community members have reason for concern since it seems clear in your recent comments after the May 23rd Committee meeting, that you favour the closing of the facility.

Homelessness remains a massive problem in the life of this City and there seems little reason to expect a rapid improvement in the situation. Now, despite the housing crisis, a shelter that meets some of that need, faces closure. The potential loss is made even more serious by the fact that it is one of the very few places that permits alcohol consumption for residents who might otherwise be forced onto the streets. The reasons that are being offered for closing the School House are completely preposterous.

Save The School House Shelter: Mass Delegation to City Council

City Hall (Bay and Queen), Wednesday, May 23, 9:30 AM
Free pancake breakfast served from 8:30 AM

The City is moving to close down the School House shelter on George St, a 55 bed facility that has provided shelter in this community for decades. It is one of the few 'wet' shelters in Toronto and those who stay there may have a drink. It has saved lives over the years.

OCAP, the Downtown East Committee of Stop the Cuts and others in the community are challenging this decision. We went to the last meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee of City Council and hostel services staff were instructed to bring back a full report on the closing of the School House. On May 23, that report will be presented and we will be there to demand that this shelter be kept open.

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