A view of St. Veronica Catholic School from Google Maps.

Toronto Catholic board offers city a school to house refugees

  • September 28, 2018

A Catholic school in downtown Toronto that has set empty for most of the past 15 years has been offered for free to the city, with one caveat: that it be used as a shelter.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board is in talks with the City of Toronto to have St. Veronica Catholic School — in the Dufferin and Dundas neighbourhood — turned into much-needed shelter space for the influx of refugees that have flooded the city. The board would continue to own the property and the city would take possession under a no-cost lease agreement. The city would be responsible to retrofit St. Veronica’s to meet the needs of a shelter.

The board is answering the call the city put out in the summer for aid in housing refugees as the influx began to put pressure on existing facilities. The need has not abated and the flow of refugees has continued with other problems arising. At one point the city had to scramble to find spots for 800 refugees who had been housed in college dorms and were dislodged when students returned from summer vacation.

“The City is experiencing unprecedented demand on the shelter system and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that there are adequate contingency measures in place, should additional space be required,” said Patricia Anderson, manager of Partnership, Development and Support in the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration with the City of Toronto, in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Our interest in St. Veronica’s School was borne out of this need.”

Canada has experienced an influx of refugees over the past couple years and it is cities like Toronto and Montreal that have been bearing the brunt of housing them. Many are leaving the United States and entering Canada at the Quebec border, fearful that they will face deportation as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has vowed an immigration crackdown. 

John Yan, senior co-ordinator in the TCDSB’s communications department, said the board is “living our Catholic values” in offering the space for a shelter.

“Our board is founded on and obligated to live our Catholic values,” said Yan. “Pope Francis has been pretty vocal that we have a duty to our brothers and sisters who have been forced to leave their homeland and need shelter. We’re answering that call.”

It’s not unusual for the board to enter such agreements. Yan said the board has a number of similar deals on its properties not currently in use, including Don Bosco High School which the Toronto Argonauts have been using as a training base.

St. Veronica’s has sat empty for the most part since 2003. It has occasionally been used to house students displaced from their regular schools by construction. At its peak, St. Veronica’s housed 350 students over three floors in its 21 classrooms. The space available, including a gymnasium, is about 36,000 square feet.

No deal has been signed between the TCDSB and the city, but Yan said trustees have approved moving forward in offering St. Veronica’s to the city. Talks are continuing with city staff and a deal is expected to be signed soon.

“There’s some minor things that have to be worked out,” he said.

Anderson expects details to soon be released. She said that though nothing has been finalized, “we have negotiated the major terms of the offer with TCDSB and expect to complete the final, remaining details very soon.”

Both sides understand there could be issues with neighbours in the once-gritty inner-city neighbourhood that has gentrified over the past decade. 

“There’s always NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), we know that, but the city will conduct their community consultations,” said Yan.

“If the use of St. Veronica’s does become necessary, the City will notify and engage with the community surrounding the school,” confirmed Anderson.

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