Tuesday, March 30, 1999

James Wallace


Hooker Haven Funded By City

Cops say prostitutes, crack dealers operate at shelter on taxpayers' tab

p. News 5.

Sex and drugs at facility: Cops

City funded home under investigation

A taxpayer-funded homeless shelter is being used as a brothel and may be one of the city's "biggest crackhouses," police say.

StreetCity, an award-winning experimental shelter run out of an old postal-truck repair depot on Front St. E., has become a heaven for "bottom-end hookers and crack dealers," 51 division Det. Matt Williamson told The Toronto Sun.

Police records show more than 2,200 logged calls to the shelter since 1995 for complaints ranging from loud parties to murder.

"We're there daily," Williamson said. "This is the No. 1 disorderly premise in my division."

StreetCity was founded a decade ago to provide temporary shelter for the homeless. It houses 72 men and women in small private rooms with looks and doors and has room for 30 transient clients in second-floor dorms.

Homes First, a non-profit housing agency, gets $852,000 a year in grants from Toronto city council and the province to run the project.

Soliciting charges routine

Williamson said police routinely pick up prostitutes for soliciting near StreetCity and say the shelter is a known hangout for drug dealers and buyers.

"This may be one of the biggest crackhouses we have in our city," he said.

StreetCity is being investigated to determine whether the taxpayer-subsidized shelter is being run as a bawdy house.

"The concern isn't who operates it, it's how it's operated," Williamson said.

StreetCity staff confirmed yesterday that prostitution and drugs are problems in the shelter.

"There's not much you can do about it," said Jeff Hiles, a staff member who's worked at the project since it opened. "What do you do? Evict them for being a prostitute? Unless you're actually seeing money changing hands there's no way we can really know who's a guest and who's a john."

Different rules

StreetCity doesn't follow conventional rules that apply in most homeless shelters. Residents are part of the "community" and help make decisions about how the place is run.

"We're here to house the hardest to house," Hiles said. "That's exactly who we house. If they are tricking and they bring their tricks back here, at least they're safe here."

Hiles said he doesn't know of any drug dealers who live there. "We have a lot of crack problems, I'm not saying we don't. But so does everywhere else."

Neighbours also have concerns about the shelter. Cindy Wilkey, vice-president of the Corktown Residents and Business Association, said nearby residents initially welcomed StreetCity but have grown angry and fearful of its residents.

"If you got crack-addicted prostitutes, the scene gets pretty ugly on the streets sometimes."

Residents met the Homes First group that oversees StreetCity, but nothing happened," she said.

Toronto community services commissioner Shirley Hoy said the city "won't tolerate" the shelter being used for prostitution or drug dealing but added officials plan to help StreetCity deal with its problems.

"We don't want to throw away the whole concept. If we didn't have a facility like StreetCity, those people would be out on the street."

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Created: March 28, 2000
Last modified: January 31, 2001
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