Housing sale threatens St. Vincent de Paul's recovery programs

  • November 16, 2011

TORONTO - The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is concerned its VincenPaul Community Homes program will be lost if the proposed sale of 706 stand-alone housing units by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) board goes ahead.

St. Vincent de Paul leases 11 of the houses TCHC is proposing to sell, said Louise Coutu, executive director of the society’s central council in Toronto. These residences act as peer-monitored recovery programs. The society owns an additional three homes. Out of its 86 beds, 66 of those will be affected, Coutu said.

“This is a program that needs to be rehoused somewhere and the only reason the program works is because it’s small and it’s personal and that’s the value in it,” Coutu told The Catholic Register. “You can’t separate (the residents) because they require each other’s support to stay sober and clean and that’s why they work so well.”

The program’s mandate is to prevent relapses by providing a stable community environment during a six- to eight-month period immediately following graduation from a recognized treatment facility.

The sell-off plan still requires the approval of City Council and the Ontario government, said Kyle Rooks, media relations consultant for TCHC in an e-mail statement. It is scheduled to go to council in the New Year, he said.

Selling the 706 houses would raise $284 million for capital repairs to the TCHC’s other buildings, said Rooks.

“That will mean better quality housing for all our 164,000 tenants. It will mean shorter waits for the 79,000 households on waiting lists for affordable housing.” There are currently $650 million worth of repairs backlogged, he said.

Rooks said they are aware many of the agencies running these homes may want to stay in the homes.

“We have committed to sitting down with these agencies and working with them one-on-one to try and find workable solutions to their particular situations,” he said. 

TCHC issued a statement in October which said the plan includes a firm commitment to minimize the impact on affected tenants, which includes “finding a new home within the company’s housing portfolio...and paying for moving costs and other supports.”

Coutu said she admires the promise to rehouse affected tenants.

“But how they can rehouse an entire program, we don’t know,” she said. “And ... we’re not getting the information and that’s where our concern comes from.”

Rooks said “board members have directed staff to place a high priority on accommodating the needs of tenants who will be relocated.” That includes working with each affected tenant to find a suitable unit that is appropriate to their circumstances.

The VincenPaul Community Homes program started with one home in 1975 and has served 6,000 people over the years.

“We run shelters and we run group homes and we have supportive housing and we know that this is the most cost-effective program we have because it’s not staff-intensive,” said Coutu.

She said the relationship between the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and TCHC has been really good over the years.

“Toronto Community Housing comes to us when they have a home, we don’t go asking from them… And we do a lot of repairs on the homes. We understand they’re owned by Toronto Community Housing, but we just did a big upgrade on one of the homes because of timing and we have the capability.”

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