John Howard Society of Durham Region
Mission: To reduce the impact of crime and its causes by providing a spectrum of effective prevention and intervention programs.
Main office: 905-579-8482, 75 Richmond Street West, Oshawa, Ontario, L1G 1E3

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YWCA Hostel Temporary Closure

Mar. 22, 2007
By Jennifer Stone

OSHAWA -- Kathy Segal knows she's one of the lucky ones.
After all, she, unlike many of the almost 50 others -- including five children -- who found emergency shelter at the YWCA's Adelaide House emergency hostel over the last few days, has a place to go when the program temporarily closes its doors April 1.

Staffing was the major issue leading to the decision to temporarily cease the program, which can house up to about 80 women and children, said Eva Martin Blythe, YWCA Durham's executive director.

"I want to take everybody with me," Ms. Segal, who has a home lined up for herself, said with a sad smile, just hours after getting the news from shelter staff that the facility would have to close down for between eight and 12 weeks.

But, she's realistic. "I'm also on a drug program trying to keep myself together, too, so I have to just think about me right now."

It won't be easy for many of the residents, she said.

"Now, what's going to happen to the girls, especially the young girls? That's who I worry about," said Ms. Segal, who provides a sneak peek into what's likely to happen, at least for some.

"I'll tell you what's going to happen; I know exactly," said Ms. Segal, fresh from an incarceration of her own. "They're going to get out on the streets and they're going to start prostituting ... There are some innocent ones still here ... They'll have nowhere to live, they'll have men sucking them in, and leading them astray. That's what's going to happen.

"So, we're losing a lot of innocent girls. They're going to go bad," she said. "That happened to me, so I know how it goes."

Temporarily closing the emergency hostel was not an easy decision, but it was necessary, said Ms. Martin Blythe.

"The underlying factor in all of this is funding," she said. "The symptoms that have brought us to this place are definitely with staffing."

The problem, she said, is there has, of late, been an exodus of staff who have moved on to work "for organizations that are able to pay significant higher salaries" than the YWCA.

That's left current staff working "mega overtime hours, and they're just burned out," said Ms. Martin Blythe.

"There are times in everybody's life when you just say, 'I need to stop,'" said Ms. Martin Blythe. This, she said, is one of those times. The closure will give the YWCA a chance to hire and train additional staff, develop new training programs, and look at policies and procedures.

She shared the news with shelter staff on Tuesday, then, with the current residents on Wednesday.

The approximately 13 staffers will be laid off during the closure, expected to last anywhere from eight to 12 weeks.

Representatives from the YWCA are working with staff from Durham Region Social Services, the John Howard Society, Housing Help Durham and other agencies to find alternative housing and support for the current residents.

"This is a terrible situation, once again highlighting the inadequacy of provincial funding for much needed local community services," said Durham Regional Chairman Roger Anderson in a news release. "Regional staff will do everything possible to assist YWCA Durham at this difficult time, but the key lies with the Province of Ontario to increase emergency hostel per diem funding."

A drop-in area, staffed with workers from an array of agencies, has been hastily put together in the 1 McGrigor Street gym, to help the women currently living in the shelter to find new digs.

The Region is helping out in an array of ways. For example, employees from the Housing Services Division are approaching potential landlords and will make referrals as alternate accommodation is located. Staff of the Income Support Division of the Region will help ensure financial assistance for all eligible clients. The Region is also providing counselors and other supports as needed.

Durham Regional Police are also preparing for potential fall-out from the shelter's closure. They will respond to any law and order issues relating to the closure, said Inspector Dave Wilson.

"Is there a potential we'll become involved? Certainly. But it's not 100 per cent because you can't predict human behaviour," he said.

Police have already pledged to train shelter staff on dealing with problems that may arise with former residents, some of whom may find themselves in distress as a result of being displaced, Insp. Wilson said.

"The potential's there that something will happen," he said. "Some of these people are those that struggle with day to day issues.

While social services agencies are taking steps to find alternative lodging for Y residents, some may fall through the cracks and become desperate, Insp. Wilson said.

That could very well happen, agreed Ms. Segal and fellow hostel resident Lisa DiLella.

"We need this place," said Ms. DiLella.

Many of the women consider it a safe haven, said Ms. Segal.

"Maybe some people say this place is enabling our bad usage or whatever you want to call it, but if it wasn't for this place, we would all be on the street and it would be way worse for us. So, I call this harm reduction," she said, adding she's hopeful members of the public will also be able to come forward with help or information about rental housing.

"At this time, there's a lot of girls who are very upset here, and they have no where to go," she said. "And it's going to be back to the street, back to using drugs, back to prostitution.

"There's going to be a lot of women who are going to be scared to leave here."

-- with files by Jeff Mitchell