Homeless seniors have a place to call home
WoodGreen Community Services revamps New Edwin Hotel
By Joanna Lavoie
In just a matter of weeks, 28 street-involved and homeless men aged 55-plus will have something they've come accustomed to going without: a safe place to live.
Seniors - the inaugural participants in WoodGreen Community Services' new First Step to Home program - will be the first to call the former New Edwin Hotel on Queen Street East home.
The east end social services agency purchased the derelict three-storey building at 650 Queen St. E. in the spring of 2008 and has spent the last 18 or so months completely repurposing it into new affordable transitional housing for street-involved and homeless seniors.
The entire project comes at a cost of $3.8 million, which was made possible through funding from the City of Toronto's housing allocation policy as well as other partner agencies, private donors and government ministries.
Construction crews were putting the final touches on the building Tuesday, Feb. 23 when The Mirror was invited to partake in an exclusive preview tour of the circa 1908 edifice.
"WoodGreen wants residents here to have a home, not just a place to live. First Step to Home is really the transition," said WoodGreen's President and CEO Brian Smith.
"We want people to get the skills and support to live independently. We want them to be part of the community."
During the tour, Smith noted 28 units will have their own private three-piece washroom and a kitchenette with a fridge, stove and microwave. He said the agency has been working hard to equip all apartments with furnishings as well as various household items.
Rima Zavys, WoodGreen's director of mental health and developmental services, homelessness and housing help services, will oversee the First Step to Home program.
She said Toronto has faced a housing crisis for more than 10 years as marginalized and low-income people simply can't afford to rent a decent apartment, which on average costs $900 for a one-bedroom unit.
Zavys said facilities like First Step to Home, which provides homeless and street-involved seniors with a home, are needed more than ever before as a recent study on homeless seniors who make use of WoodGreen services found that most have been homeless or under housed for an average of eight-and-a-half years.
"People who are 55-plus on the street are more likely to get targeted and get illnesses," she said. "We feel it was a priority to provide housing to the older folks we see on the streets."
Zavys said about 40 residents lived at the New Edwin Hotel when WoodGreen took possession of the building back in 2008 and that extra effort was made to help those remaining tenants find suitable housing.
In the end, WoodGreen counted a total of 54 rooms throughout the vermin-infested building. Some of the rooms in the former tavern area and basement didn't have windows or proper electricity outlets.
"It was dingy, completely cluttered," Zavys said.
"It was really rough; pretty basic. It was 1908 conditions."
That description is a far cry from what the building is today.
A complete refurbishment has transformed the grimy space into a well-lit, homey and welcoming place with new heating, wiring, fire and security systems that are all up to today's building code standards.
Each unit has also been equipped with an emergency alarm system for immediate assistance from the 24-hour staff and a new central elevator will help residents gain easier access to the units.