Greater need brings cutbacks to Toronto shelter

By 
  • April 29, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The Good Shepherd Centre has cancelled lunch and dinner under pressure from another big jump in homeless and near-homeless people on its doorstep. From now on the centre will serve one meal a day between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The new serving hours are not a cutback, but rather an attempt to serve more meals to more clients in response to a crush of new needs.

Good Shepherd Ministries executive director Br. David Lynch of the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd isn’t sure he can attribute a 25-per-cent increase in demand for meals to the deteriorating economy. He finds more immediate and concrete reasons for the lengthening lineup outside the Good Shepherd’s Queen Street East door.


“We started seeing an increase last summer when 300 shelter beds were shut down in this city,” said Lynch. “Those people were moved out into their own accommodation and they were going from an institution to independence practically over night — and that doesn’t always work.”

To serve more than 1,000 meals and snacks a day more efficiently, the Good Shepherd Centre is modifying its dining room, and hoped to have the new configuration open May 1.

Lynch avoids easy explanations.

“Is it society? Is it community? Is it the economy? Is it social housing? It’s all of the above,” he said.

The new hours for serving more than 1,000 meals a day will create problems for a few long-time volunteers, said Lynch. Older volunteers may find two hours on their feet serving meals pretty tough, but there will be ways to get around that, he said. For those who wish, the new schedule may afford more opportunities for volunteers to sit and talk with the clients.

There are also plenty of volunteer assignments apart from serving meals, from sorting food donations to kitchen work.

“Beds have to be made. Sandwiches have to be made,” points out Lynch. “Nobody is turned away from Good Shepherd without anything. If we can’t accommodate them, they get a bus ticket. If we can’t feed them they get a sandwich. If a social worker isn’t on site to see them, somebody will take their basic information and they will be contacted the next day. Nobody is turned away with nothing.”

A revamped web site (www.goodshepherd.ca) should make it easier for new volunteers to connect, said Lynch.

The old parish hall and bowling alley that the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd transformed into the Good Shepherd Centre in 1963 is bursting at the seams.

“When I came in 1995 we had 50 beds serving 250 people a day,” said Lynch. “Now there’s 91 beds. There’s nowhere else to go with beds. But the drop in and dining room continues to be very busy.”

Lynch would like to take a wrecking ball to the tired and tiny building so the Little Brothers can serve more people. But there’s no money for a building program right now, to say nothing of the political battle that any expanded services for the indigent would spark in the historically poor neighbourhood.

“We have a long-term strategic plan but you have to look at the environment as well,” said Lynch.

The neighbourhood is saturated with shelters, social housing, drop-in centres and other social services. The city has imposed a moratorium on any additional shelters in the area.

“The politics could change over night and either make it very easy for us to do something with this site or make it very difficult or impossible,” Lynch said.

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