Community Rallies to Save Red Door Shelter
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Community Rallies to Save Red Door Shelter

A real estate dispute is threatening the future of the safe haven for families.


Supporters of the “Save the Red Door” campaign, from left: board chair Rachel Grinberg, former mayor David Crombie, executive director Bernnitta Hawkins, city councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth). Photo courtesy of Save the Red Door Campaign.

About 300 people packed the Ralph Thornton Centre in Riverdale on April 7 to pledge their support for the Red Door Family Shelter, a safe haven for families, whose future is in jeopardy. The 106-bed shelter, which has been serving families in need for over 30 years, may be forced to close or relocate because of a real estate dispute involving diet doctor Stanley Bernstein and his neighbours and business partners Norma and Ronauld Walton. Norma Walton’s diversion of funds from the partners’ joint investments resulted in legal action—and the court placed the partners’ jointly owned properties into receivership and ordered that they be sold. One of those properties is home to the shelter.

Monday’s “Save the Red Door” meeting was the second large community gathering in recent weeks. The loud, clear message from local politicians and attendees was that the Red Door is an important and valued part of the community. “Across this city, there’s all kinds of people who get together and say, ‘We don’t want a shelter in our ward,'” noted local councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto Danforth). “We’ve packed a room to keep a shelter on Queen Street!” Fletcher said to loud cheers and applause.

The shelter is located in a building formerly owned by Woodgreen United Church. Fletcher expressed concern that other community assets in churches might face similar uncertainty, because the City does not control the land. Only last week, city council passed a motion “to create an inventory of facilities and programs funded by the city located in churches across Toronto,” and to plan for the sale of such locations.

The gathering was packed with local residents, several of whom have used the Red Door shelter over the years. Kozeta Izeti, whose family sought refuge in Canada from Albania years ago, said words cannot describe the support she received from the shelter. “If it wasn’t for Red Door Shelter, I wouldn’t be where I am,” said Izeti, who now runs a salon in Forest Hill. “They really deserve to give hope to other people like me.”

Another former patron named Linda said in an interview that many women who rely on shelters like Red Door often lack options for safety and support. “People often have to make a choice between clothing and feeding their kids, and paying the rent, or they have to face an abusive situation. That’s not fair.”

Bernnitta Hawkins, the shelter’s executive director, told the gathering that local developer Harhay Construction has expressed interest in buying the property. “Our campaign has certainly allowed us to get the attention of the developer,” Hawkins said.

Carol Allain, who used to live and work in the area, expressed concern about shelter access in an interview. “We don’t have a lot of shelter beds, and to lose 106 more beds would be a tragedy,” said Allain. Hawkins confirmed that Red Door’s beds are regularly full, and that need is increasing across the city.

The City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee is expected to consider options to preserve the Red Door shelter at its meeting on April 17.

CORRECTION: April 10, 2014, 11:26 AM This post originally misspelled the first name of the shelter’s executive director. It is Bernnitta, not Bernita. We regret the error.