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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Matt Elliott: Opposition to Annex homeless shelter might be peak NIMBY

This backlash goes beyond your typical not-in-my-backyard kvetching and to a whole new level of fiery opposition.

Backlash to a new homeless shelter in The Annex reveals is a telling part of Toronto's shelter crisis, Matt Elliott says.

Torstar News Service file

Backlash to a new homeless shelter in The Annex reveals is a telling part of Toronto's shelter crisis, Matt Elliott says.

The city has acquired 348 Davenport Rd. in the Annex neighbourhood. It will be used as a winter respite site — a place for people to stay warm — starting this week and will open as a full-service shelter once renovations are completed.

Here’s the bad news: the NIMBYs are at it again.

And this isn’t your usual not-in-my-backyard kvetching. This is a whole new level of fiery opposition, shattering all previous records. It might be peak NIMBY.

While the larger Annex Residents Association is thankfully supportive of the new shelter, a group called the Davenport Triangle Residents Association (DATRA) really, really doesn't want it in their neighbourhood. In a letter to local councillor Joe Cressy published in its newsletter, DATRA says the Annex “has more than its share of ‘social problem’ housing and it is time for the rest of the city to share the burden.”

They blame Cressy for his desire to help low-income people, writing: “This seems to be a particular interest of yours, more than other councillors, so it all ends up in our backyard.”

But wait, there’s more. Their opposition descended further into self-parody when Nigel Napier-Andrews, who serves on the board of DATRA, told The Globe and Mail that he was specifically concerned that homeless people staying at the shelter would, in a fit of jealousy, vandalize his neighbour’s Tesla.

Yeah, he said that. He went there.

But here’s the thing. While DATRA’s comments are grossly insensitive, especially at a time when capacity issues at shelters have put people at risk of freezing to death on Toronto streets, I do begrudgingly have to give them some points for honesty.

Because normally this kind of NIMBYism isn’t quite so direct. Instead, it’s couched behind trumped-up concerns about things like neighbourhood character or traffic. But DATRA is just laying it all out there: they don’t want a shelter in their neighbourhood because they don’t want more poor people in their neighbourhood.

In doing so, they reveal the truth about one of the causes behind Toronto’s shelter crisis. This kind of opposition is not unique to this part of the Annex. It exists everywhere. Usually it’s quieter — and isn’t normally tied to bizarre concerns about luxury vehicle vandalism — but it’s there.

And local councillors know it. They know that homeowners feeling squeamish about shelters are likely to cast votes in elections, while those staying in shelters are not.

Addressing this challenge isn’t easy, but taking the politics out of it would be a good start. In addition to finding new shelter sites, Cressy has been pushing for new zoning options that would automatically grant approval to shelters in places where there is a need, bypassing the requirement for local approvals.

It’s an idea that will almost certainly lead to fears of shelters opening all over the place, but rest assured that no one really wants that. Shelters are a short-term bandage for poverty, not a long-term cure. If you don’t want to see more shelters, help erase the need for shelters.

To do that, support anti-poverty programs. Support mental-health services. Support affordable housing. Do the work to find solutions for the more than 6,000 people with no choice but to stay in shelters and respites.

Stop fretting about your backyard and start caring about your city.

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