Scarborough Youth Shelter Closes Sooner than Expected
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Scarborough Youth Shelter Closes Sooner than Expected

Despite a 4,000 person petition, Scarborough's only youth shelter closes three weeks earlier than expected.

Front entrance of Second Base Youth Shelter at 702 Kennedy Road in Scarborough. Photo by Samira Mohyeddin.

Scarborough’s only youth shelter closed on October 1, three weeks earlier than expected.

The move came as a surprise to shelter staff who opposed the prospective closure, and learned of the decision mere hours before their October 1 shift was set to begin.

The shelter operated for 22 years, and provided 60 beds for homeless youth. In July, the board of directors decided to close the shelter, citing financial difficulties.

In a statement, the Second Base board wrote:

From the day of its inception, Second Base has been faced with financial and operational challenges. Some of our challenges has been related to our occupancy levels. As a result, the shelter has been experiencing ongoing cash flow issues. This situation has been exacerbated recently and for the past several months. The Board has been working tirelessly on the identification of additional funding sources and on the development of a corporate culture that could be able to sustain and offer the best support possible to residents.

Unfortunately, given our average occupancy levels, the current staff and capacity, the nature and scope of the multiple challenges faced by our residents, and our building maintenance expenses, we have decided that the agency is no longer able to offer the type of environment necessary for the well-being of Toronto’s homeless youth. Therefore, the Board of Directors made the decision to begin the process of dissolution of the agency and to cease operation by October 20 2015, unless a viable option to ensure the sustainability of the shelter could be identified within the next three (3) months.

The decision to close the shelter brought out community support and critiques of the board’s management.

A petition protesting the closure of Second Base gathered more than 4,000 signatures before the shelter closed on October 1.

Spearheaded by the the former executive director of the shelter, Marika Goode, and supported by former employees and board members, the petition blames the closure on an alleged mismanagement of funds on the part of current board members.

The petition states:

Under the new management and in only two years, this management team has racked up almost $100,000 in new debt and has decided to shut down this vital service because they cannot pay the bills, leaving the youngsters (16- to 21-year-olds) to fend for themselves.

Instead of shutting down Second Base, the current board should step aside and let others step in.

Current board members declined to respond to repeated interview requests from Torontoist.

“When I was director at the shelter we were operating at a $32,000 surplus. Why should these kids have to suffer because of their mismanagement?” said Goode in advance of the October 1 closure.

Reasons for the early closure were not provided, but youth homelessness remains a persistent problem in the city.

According to City of Toronto figures [PDF], on any given night an estimated 2,000 youth are homeless, which represents about 40 per cent of the homeless population. Compounding issues for the Scarborough youth shelter closure is the worrisome rise in suburban homelessness as trends in housing affordability have increased homeless pressures outside of the downtown core.

Colleen Dew, a 23-year employee of the shelter and President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4358, which represents the shelter workers, says that the financial numbers make the case to keep the shelter open.

Referring to the shelter’s audited report from 2014 [PDF] which shows some funds donated by the City of Toronto, United Way, and Home Depot went unspent, Dew echoes Goode’s request that the current board members step aside and allow others to take over the management of the shelter.

Citing the reasons offered by the current board, Dew remains perplexed as to why the shelter is closing at all.

“All of the big funders, The City of Toronto and the United Way, are still on board. It just does not make any sense,” says Dew.

A review of Second Base’s audit report for 2014 shows that the shelter received $10,000 from the United Way and $10,853 from the City of Toronto last year for a meal program, but only used $2,500 of the funds. Also, a $25,000 grant from Home Depot for maintenance repairs was not used at all, according to the financial statement.

Local councilor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest) could not be reached for comment, but her executive assistant said that caseworkers have been assigned to the individuals who used Second Base to help them meet alternate housing needs.