City of Toronto staff say $3 million cost overrun for shelter conversion won’t happen again

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Toronto learned lessons from mould and other problems that boosted the cost of converting a Kingston Rd. motel into a homeless shelter by $3.2 million, and it won’t happen again, city staff say.

City councillors on the new government services and licensing committee lightly grilled bureaucrats Monday over what inspections were done on a Comfort Inn before the city agreed to pay $7.8 million in 2016 for the property and commit another $8.7 million to covert it to a city shelter.

The city didn’t realize the expensive structural problems, and others related to mould and rodent damage, until crews took down walls, city staff told committee members. The extra costs pushed the total price tag of converting the 30,000-square-foot building near Bellamy Rd. to about $20 million.

Staff said they hired an engineering firm to do a building condition assessment, and another on soil conditions, but the owner would not allow them to do more invasive testing behind walls because it was a functioning motel with guests coming and going.

“There were no outward signs of these issues,” and past renovations might have helped make the significant problems less apparent, councillors were told.

Councillor John Filion said he still has questions about the ballooning cost and wondered if the city could have saved money by subdividing the 65,000-square-foot lot.

“Rebuilding a property at a total cost of more than $20 million, most of which is for construction, at this kind of density on Kingston Rd. doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said.

The shelter is being funded as part of a plan to open up beds as the city redevelops George St. downtown, including the razing and replacement of the Seaton House shelter.

The Kingston Rd. shelter is expected to open in early March, hold beds for 95 vulnerable people of all genders and to accommodate pets.

At the same meeting, committee members fast-tracked a licensing staff review of clothing drop-boxes, after one Toronto woman, Crystal Papineau, and multiple people in B.C. have been trapped and killed in the boxes.

The report with recommended changes slated to come in September will instead be ready in May, and look at multiple issues involving the bins where people drop old textiles to be sold offshore for resale and recycling.

“The largest city in Canada, having people sleeping on our streets … you look at the unfortunate circumstances of people going into bins,” to retrieve clothes or even sleep, said committee chair Councillor Paul Ainslie.

“I think we have a long way to go in this city dealing not only with these bins and make them safe but also the social aspect of why we even need these bins in the city in the first place.”

Toronto has issued 460 $100 drop-box permits to six charitable organizations and four for-profit firms, but has a “running battle” with others who illegally drop collection boxes on public and private property, committee members heard.

Councillors expressed other concerns, including garbage dumped around the boxes and even fires lit inside them.

Two representatives of Diabetes Canada told the committee their non-profit relies on more than 4,000 clothing bins across Canada to help fund research, advocacy and camps for diabetic kids.

All the Diabetes Canada bins are being retrofitted by the end of this week to eliminate “pinch points” where intruders can get stuck, they said. They encouraged Toronto to work with non-profits that use the boxes to develop a “textile diversion program,” like those in Markham and Newmarket, to regulate use of the boxes.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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‘I believed something was wrong with me’: Edmonton man calls for conversion therapy ban – Edmonton

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Kevin Schultz voluntarily spent four years in conversion therapy, a program that claims to change an individual’s sexuality from gay to straight.

Schultz said he entered the program because he believed something was wrong with him.

“I am from a very religious background. There was no room for gay people within the church,” Schultz said. “This homophobia that was all around me was internalized as well.”

LISTEN BELOW: Conversation therapy survivor Kevin Schultz speaks with the 630 CHED Afternoon News

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Speaking on the 630 CHED Afternoon News, Schultz said the underlying assumption of conversion therapy is that no one is born gay.

“Everyone is born straight, something has happened that made us gay,” said Schultz. “So if you could find what the cause was, you could fix it… (as if) you’re broken.”

Schultz said he tried to ignore his feelings, getting married to a woman and having three kids.

“I didn’t really accept that I was gay until I left conversion therapy. I thought that I was just struggling with same-sex attraction,” Schultz said. “I (had) to find a way to be normal. I saw myself as sick, and here was a solution.”

Schultz said he tried very hard to convince himself conversion therapy was working.

“I had a family dependent on me. I didn’t want to put them through what I knew would happen if I came out. I wanted to find a way to be a straight man,” said Schultz. “When I look back on my life before I came out, (what I remember most) is being very lonely.”

An online petition is calling on the Trudeau government to implement a nationwide ban on conversion therapy.

Since its launch in September, the petition has garnered more than 3,000 signatures and is set to be presented in the House of Commons in January.


READ MORE:
Petition to ban conversion therapy across Canada gains steam, survivor says it’s ‘long overdue’

Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Nicole Goehring is working on a private member’s bill to institute a ban in Alberta.

“We support the request that the feds ban this, but we’re looking at an Alberta perspective. We know that (conversion therapy) is discriminatory and causes harm,” Goehring told 630 CHED.


READ MORE:
Alberta NDP to introduce bill banning gay conversion therapy

“We’ve heard loud and clear from the LGBTQ+ community that this is a ban that is long overdue and absolutely needs to happen now,” said Goehring. “We’re still in the process of working on the language (of the bill) because we want to get it right.”

Schultz recalls the night he left conversion therapy as the “happiest and scariest moment of (his) life.”

“There was someone in the group that said he was hallucinating and hearing voices. (To me), it felt like he needed to be in an emergency room. But instead, the leader of the group said: ‘You’re being plagued by a demon, and we need to pray this out of you.’”

Schultz walked out the door and drove home. He recalls it as the moment he knew he had to come out.

“It felt like this huge burden had been lifted. But I was also terrified,” he said.

It’s now been 10 years since Schultz left conversion therapy. He has been married to his husband for seven years.

He said he is hopeful legislation will move forward.

“I just want (LGBTQ) people to know you are not alone. There is a whole community waiting for you. We know how good it is on this side.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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