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The 519 cuts back homeless programs

Renovations mean smaller drop-in food kitchen program

A YEAR OF DISRUPTIONS. Maura Lawless, The 519's executive director, says renovations will force the centre to cut back on the number of people it serves. Credit: (Jenna Wakani)

The ongoing renovations at the 519 Community Centre will continue to affect programs for at least 12 months.

Maura Lawless, The 519’s executive director, says the changes may please neighbours who are worried about the cleanliness of Cawthra Park. She says work beginning in May on the centre’s original building will mean a cutback in programs such as the Sunday drop-in food kitchen.

“We won’t have a large space available like the auditorium,” says Lawless. “The numbers will be affected. We may not be able to accommodate 200 people at one time.”

Lawless says The 519 has contacted homeless shelters in the area about the change.

“We have sent out pamphlets and information to local shelters,” she says. “If folks do come we’ll be able to redirect them to other shelters.”

Lawless says the renovations will also affect the Health Bus, which will be parking closer to the 519’s front door, a change she says will probably please nearby residents. The bus, operated by the Sherbourne Health Centre, provides mobile nursing care at community locations.

“The benefit is it’s a smaller space so we’ll be able to spend more dedicated time with people,” she says. “We can make sure folks are respectful of the neighbourhood and the community.”

Lawless says The 519 will work more closely with the city in the future to maintain the park.

“Our staff has agreed to help monitor usage of the park,” she says. “A lot of it is to do with our family resources program. We want to make sure kids have somewhere safe to play. But we don’t actually manage the park. The city’s parks and recreation staff take care of the park. It’s all about unionized environments.”

Lawless admits there may have been disputes with local residents in the past.

“Historically there may have been some issues,” she says. “We just want to be preemptive this year and have discussions with city staff. We want to make sure we’re good neighbours.”

Sam Ghazarian, the chair of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA), is happy with The 519 initiatives.

“This year we plan on incorporating the park into all of our BIA events, so we are glad to see that The 519 will be taking on more responsibility in cleaning and monitoring the park,” he wrote in an email.

But neighbours and community groups will also have access to less space at The 519 during renovations.

“Our office manager has been spending a lot of time helping community groups relocate,” Lawless says.

Plans for a large art mosaic to hang on the south side of The 519 are also proceeding. Lawless says work, including community meetings to discuss the design, will begin in the fall.

“The hope is that everything will be completed for Pride in 2009,” she says.

The CWVBIA applied to the City of Toronto Mural Program on behalf of The 519 and was awarded $5,000.

“We are proud to work with The 519 on this project,” Ghazarian stated. “I believe the mosaic will help promote local involvement, community partnership and add to the physical identity of The 519. It will also add colour and artistic flare to the community.”

Lawless says the project still needs to raise about $5,000. She hopes a proposal to Amnesty International to film the entire process will spark further community interest.

“They have this application where organizations can apply to have their mosaic process filmed and entered into a human rights festival,” she says. “The 519 and the neighbourhood would be captured on film.”