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Advocates say this free meal service in Toronto’s west end is at risk due to TCHC renos

A community food centre in the city’s west end is due for a renovation, but staff say they weren’t meaningfully consulted and the results might come at the expense of locals in need. 

The Stop Community Food Centre (SCFC) says it’s been told to clear out its drop-in meal space by June 3 to make way for an upgraded kitchen and recreation space, along with an additional washroom. The centre’s landlord, Toronto Community Housing (TCHC), said the changes are necessary to meet accessibility standards under provincial law.

But Shae London, executive director of the centre, said the renovations will temporarily displace their programming and potentially make it harder to operate normally when they return, by changing the layout of their drop-in area. The changes will ultimately make it more difficult to serve the 60,000 meals free meals they serve each year, she said.

“It’s a little short-sighted, as far as I can tell,” said London.

“We definitely don’t want the message to be that we’re anti or against the accessibility upgrades. What we’re trying to do is find a happy medium.”

The project came to the centre’s attention in the summer of 2021, but London says there has been little engagement and collaboration with TCHC on the design since.

But she’s hopeful there’s time to stall construction and come up with a new blueprint that’ll make their space more accessible while keeping programming in tact. The centre started an online petition with more than 1,700 signatures as of Thursday in its bid to convince TCHC to do just that.

“We just want to get back to the table with Toronto Community Housing,” she said.

A woman smiles at the camera, with a mural behind her.
Shae London is the executive director of The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto’s west end. She says new renovations to their building threatens to temporarily displace their programming and potentially make it harder to operate normally when they return. (Vanessa Balintec/CBC)

Renovation will also help tenants, TCHC says

In an email to CBC Toronto, TCHC said renovations at 1884 Davenport Rd. are needed to help meet standards outlined in the mandatory Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which aims to makes the province accessible by 2025.

Its tenant advisory committee also identified “several tenant challenges.” Currently 210 tenants live in the same building that houses The Stop, including 13 with accessibility needs.

“TCHC recognizes the important work that The Stop does in the Davenport community, including providing services to some of our tenants,” TCHC said.

“TCHC staff are actively working with The Stop staff, and we remain committed to doing our best to minimize the disruption during construction for our tenants and our community partners,” it said.

TCHC said staff have met with The Stop to “work together” to find ways to keep the drop-in meal program going during construction and have offered them alternative space at a nearby building, as well as a rent abatement to compensate the move.

The city agency says while construction is slated to start this year, there isn’t currently an exact start date. It’s projected to last about six months, it said.

Volunteers prepare to serve food.
Volunteers at The Stop Community Food Centre help serve food to clients. Renovations by Toronto Community Housing threaten to stop their operations at their Davenport location for six to nine months. (Vanessa Balintec/CBC News)

Community members on importance of centre

But the centre said the alternative space wasn’t fit for their operations. Instead, the drop-in program will temporarily move operations to its Wychwood location on 729 St. Clair Ave. W. 

Misty Parsons, an active meal service user and centre volunteer, said it’ll be hard for some locals to travel uphill to that location.

“It is harder on the bones, and the weather doesn’t always make it accessible to get there,” she said. “And the price increase toward TTC is not always fundable.”

LISTEN | The Stop encourages clients to be advocates for those in need:

Metro Morning5:26With 1 in 10 people relying on food banks, Toronto’s The Stop encourages clients to be advocates for those in need

Metro Morning’s Mary Wiens spoke with volunteer Rosalee Edwards at The Stop Community Food Centre.

Wendy Hillman says she’s been using the centre’s services for the past 15 years. The senior said news of the renovation made her “sad,” but also gave her hope. 

“There’s a lot of changes coming to The Stop, but it’s going to benefit everybody immensely, all for the good,” she said. 

Renovations come as food insecurity continues to rise

The renovations are coming at a time of rising food insecurity in the city.

Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said food bank visits in the city went from 60,000 monthly visits pre-COVID to 330,000 visits in April alone. 

“This is just another one of those stressors,” said Hetherington, speaking of the temporary displacement that will come as a result of the renovation.

“But at the same time, we need to celebrate. Maybe it’s better space that will come about.”

In an email, Davenport Coun. Alejandra Bravo told CBC Toronto her office is working to find a solution for both parties.

“While the accessibility renovations at 1884 Davenport are moving forward to meet TCHC’s AODA compliance obligations, it is important that we find an approach that makes it possible for The Stop to continue their programming, which is critical to our community,” she said.

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