Michael Day has been relying on Haven Toronto for two warm meals a day for 17 years.
“If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t know where to go,” said Day.
The organization has been serving elderly homeless, marginally housed and socially isolated men for more than 90 years — providing clients with food, clothing, health supports, laundry facilities and showers. Day, who is now 67, says he’s been on and off the streets since he was 18 years old, and often experienced being turned away from shelters.
“I would go to a shelter and ask if they had an extra bed and they’d say no,” he said. “I’ve slept in doorways, stairwells, you name it, I’ve done it.”
As the city faces a housing crisis and the cost living continues to increase, Haven Toronto is supporting more clients than ever before. The drop-in centre on Jarvis Street is hoping to collect more food and clothing donations this holiday season to meet a rising need — something other organizations like charities and food banks are contending with as well.
“We serve 300 meals a day — breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack,” said Stephen Dorsey, marketing and development lead at Haven Toronto. Dorsey said the number of meals they’ve served this year is 20 per cent higher than last year, and due to the rising cost of purchasing food, their food budget has quadrupled.
“Homeless people are already marginalized and as they get older its even more difficult for them, they have medical issues and other challenges. The shelter system can be a difficult place for them,” Dorsey said.
Empty shelves in the clothing room
Natasha Wakaruk, director of finance and operations at Haven Toronto took CBC Toronto through the clothing room where they hope to fill some of their empty shelves with donations of shoes, coats and pants.
“Most of our donations come from community members,” she said. “Coming into the winter season we’re in dire need of warm winter clothes.”
On a tour through the facilities, Wakaruk said the drop in centre also has a games room, a library and computers for their clients to use, as well as an on-site nurse and dental hygienist.
“For a lot of the guys, this is the only point of contact in the health-care system.”
Wakaruk says while it’s been challenging keeping up with the demand and witnessing the struggles of many of their clients, seeing the benefits of the services and the positive impact they have on their lives brings a feeling of gratitude.
“Some days are harder than others but it’s a really great place to be. It’s an honour to be here and try to make their space a better place and somewhere they feel safe,” Wakaruk said.
Aside from the services it offers, Haven Toronto also aims to provide a space that these men can feel safe, form friendships and feel part of a community — a feeling Day says he has every time he walks through the doors.
“Food prices are very expensive. I’d go hungry if I didn’t have this place. It’s great, I love it here.”
For more information on our Sounds of the Season holiday campaign in support of GTA food banks and to learn more about our Friday, Dec. 8 programming day at the CBC Toronto Broadcast Centre, visit cbc.ca/sots