Campaign Builds to Save Scarborough's Only Youth Shelter
"I have a place where I can go without feeling judged, where I can be myself. At Second Base, we're all one family"
By Paul Bocking
Homeless youth, frontline staff, and the Toronto Youth Cabinet are campaigning to keep open the Second Base Youth Shelter at 702 Kennedy Road—the only shelter for young adults in Scarborough, and the second-largest youth shelter in the city. They allege that financial mismanagement and inadequate city funding are behind a plan by the shelter's board and management to close the 60-bed facility on October 20.
"Growing up, I felt alone a lot of the time. When I came to the shelter, within two days I came out of my shell. It changed my life. To be accepted, with no story behind it—'if you don't want to discuss it, that's fine.' There's no better feeling in the entire world." So says Madison Seto, who lived in Second Base until September.
Cassie, 16, writes in a letter distributed by supporters, "I have a place where I can go without feeling judged, where I can be myself. At Second Base, we're all one family. The moment you walk in, everyone accepts you and welcomes you. They don't care what happened in your past, they just care about what you do when you're there."
Frontline youth workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, held a rally on September 18, calling for Second Base to remain open. Scarborough Southwest Member of Parliament Dan Harris attended. "Shelters protect the most vulnerable within our communities. If we cannot even provide our most vulnerable citizens with food and shelter in their time of need, that signifies a failure on behalf of government and society as a whole," he said in a statement supporting the event.
Seto became an active campaigner to keep the shelter open when she learned of plans for its closure. She says she was evicted by the shelter's managers after putting up posters saying "Keep Base Open."
A sign was seen on an outside door during the rally, instructing resident youth not to talk to media or elected officials.
Board chair Sherwin Modeste was quoted in the Toronto Star on September 7, stating that 57 beds must be filled each night for the shelter to receive sufficient funding for operations, and that the average last year was 43 (City funding is tied to the number of youth living in the shelter). The number is disputed by shelter staff who say it was close to capacity up until the start of September, when youth were turned away to prepare for closure. However, with 57 beds full or 95% capacity, the shelter surpasses the city's 90% shelter occupancy guidelines, after which more space needs to be found. Whether 43 or more youth used the shelter every night, youth and shelter workers argue that this indicates a pressing need for the shelter in Scarborough and that its closure will increase pressure on the City's remaining facilities.
Second Base receives 83% of its funding from the City of Toronto and most of the rest from the United Way, but is an independent agency. Staff and youth want it taken over and run by the City rather than closed. The shelter operated with an $85,957 deficit in 2014, due to insufficient occupancy, according to its board and managers. This explanation is challenged in interviews with former board treasurer, Michael Vourakes and former executive director, Marika Goode, who explained that they had previously succeeded in making the shelter financially viable, and that current problems are the fault of the present board, under which the shelter became top-heavy with too many managers and insufficient fundraising. Writing for InsideToronto on September 17, Mike Adler also reports various instances from the shelter's 2014 financial report where the board had apparently not made use of sizable donations from Home Depot for building repairs, or a grant from the City and United Way for its meals.
According to articles on September 7 by the Toronto Star and September 17 by InsideToronto, local Ward 35 councillor Michelle Berardinetti supports the board's decision, saying that youth are choosing to go downtown where other services are provided. Seto disagrees, "Had the shelter not been closing, they would have stayed there," explaining that with a fixed income of $280 per month, traveling downtown is too expensive while attending school in Scarborough. She added, "That would be stressful. Creating your life around Second Base, and then having to move, that's a lot of stress in the lives of these youth." Marika Goode adds, "Once they go to adult shelters, it becomes far more difficult to pull them back to a normal life. Shelters in the city are already overcrowded."
Toronto Youth Cabinet Community Engagement Director and Scarborough resident Alison Read says she's gained the backing of city councillors Joe Cressy and Paula Fletcher for the efforts of the Youth Cabinet to save the shelter. Fletcher wrote on September 21 to the City's Community Development and Recreation Committee in support of keeping Second Base open. The Youth Cabinet has since published a public letter to councillors asking for their support. An online petition directed to Mayor John Tory was created by Marika Goode, gaining over 4100 signatures as of October 5. She and former board members and current staff have been meeting to strategize fundraising approaches that could keep this shelter open.