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York Region closing Kingbridge transitional shelter for homeless

'Affordability of housing is just out of control right now. I’m on a disability, a monthly disability. It’s so prohibitive to find a place right now,' says one resident of the closure of the temporary pandemic shelter
Belinda's Place resident Christina Leitch said she worries about the closing of the last shelter she stayed at, Kingbridge.

Christina Leitch said it was scary when she learned that York Region’s temporary shelter at Kingsbridge Centre was due to close in the summer.

Currently residing at Belinda’s Place in Newmarket, she said she was fortunate to find another place to go after staying at Kingbridge for a month in March. 

But she had been terrified of getting forced out of Kingbridge with nowhere to go, and knows of others residing there feeling the same way.   

“It’s terrible. Where are all those people going to go?” she said. “They are already homeless. The fact that it is closing is scary. I feel terrible and I don’t know what I would do if I was still there, and I wasn’t able to come here.” 

York Region has announced it will close Kingbridge July 31, with the facility already transitioning back to a hotel and conference centre space. The shelter was originally opened in King in May 2020 to provide a temporary transitional shelter that allowed for safe self-isolation during the pandemic.

The facility was meant to address capacity reductions in the emergency housing system, according to York Region communications associate Ava Baccari. But with pandemic public health protocols lifted, emergency housing is back to full capacity. 

"Staff are working closely with people currently at the temporary transitional shelter to update and implement individual housing plans and provide support to people to find suitable accommodation/housing," the region said. "The gradual closing of the York Region temporary transitional shelter is in line with closures of similar facilities in some municipalities across the province." 

Leitch said she ended up at Kingbridge after an unfortunate situation forced a sudden move. She said she feared becoming homeless after she learned it was closing in the summer, adding that the support there was limited.

But she was able to transition to Belinda’s Place in Newmarket, where she has got all the support she has needed to line herself up with a new place to live starting in July.

“I couldn't be more blessed to end up here,” she said. “I’m grateful that I’ve had that support in order to be able to help find a place.” 

However, others remain in Kingbridge with less certainty. Stouffville-area resident Alan McClain said he moved there in the middle of March after some time couch-surfing. He said it is a nice place, and the staff there have been great, but they are stretched thin, and living there is “very isolated.”

He is looking for a new place to rent, he said, using disability support and a subsidy. But he said it is a difficult market to get into right now.

“I know other folks that still need that facility,” McClain said. “Affordability of housing is just out of control right now. I’m on a disability, a monthly disability. It’s so prohibitive to find a place right now.”

It is time for Kingbridge to close, McClain said, adding that the facility is built for isolation. But with 30 individuals still living there, down from 100 to 200 at peak, he said the issue is a lack of a suitable replacement.

“They need something else because there are still quite a few people coming here,” he said. 

York Region said it works to help find homeless individuals places in the private market, transitional housing, with families and friends, or in emergency shelters. It also noted it provides a range of support through its housing stability program. 

The pandemic situation could change in the fall with public health anticipating another COVID-19 wave. The region said it could respond accordingly. 

"Should public health guidance change, due to a new wave of the pandemic in the fall, the region, as the system manager, will work closely with emergency housing operators to support people experiencing homelessness to receive the services they need."

But there should be another new spot for those transitioning out of Kingbridge, Leitch said.

“If they're going to close one place, especially that big, housing that many people, then they should have an alternative,” she said.