Your Mission — To Decide
In the past year or so, two galactic sized battles have surfaced in downtown Windsor pitting the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) against the YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yard).
On the one hand, in one battle, a group of Windsor YIMBYs are insisting that Windsor’s new acute care hospital be built in the city core — and not at the selected County Road 42 location; and on the other hand, in the second battle, the NIMBYs are apoplectic over The Downtown Mission of Windsor’s purchase of the Windsor Public Library on Ouellette Avenue as their new home. It’s this latter battle this article addresses. But first, a few personal disclosures.
First, I have been a lifelong supporter of The Downtown Mission of Windsor (DM). Second, I am one of many residents whose eyes rolled back with incredulity and skepticism when I heard that the Windsor Public Library (WPL) Central Branch had been sold to the DM for their new eventual home. And my third disclosure is I am the Windsor resident whose beloved greyhound, Vici, was attacked and killed April 26, 2019 on Ouellette Avenue by the dangerous dog owned by a homeless man and occasional DM guest.Given these disclosures, I am not “weighing in” one way or another on the DM move, but simply presenting you facts I learned from my interview with Ron Dunn, Executive Director of the DM. These facts are presented here in short form so you can make your own decisions.
- The DM originally opened its doors in Central United Church at 628 Ouellette Avenue in 1972, serving coffee and doughnuts to about 28 people a day. Today, they serve over 900 meals a day in total (breakfast, lunch and dinner), seven days a week.
- In 1986 the DM moved to the Volcano Restaurant at 157 Wyandotte Street West, where it remained for 16 years, until moving in June 2001 three buildings south into Temple Baptist Church at 664 Victoria Avenue.
- In May 2016 the DM purchased the four-storey office building at 875 Ouellette Avenue, directly across from the WPL. It currently houses their Wellness Centre consisting of the Sanctuary (shelter) Program (gender separated dorm rooms with 103 beds, transitional accommodations, and separate accommodations for youth under 18 years of age), Phoenix Recovery program, Food Bank, Fitness Centre, and medical and dental care facilities.
- The DM is a registered Canadian charity under the direction of a current 13 member governance board of directors. Its legal name is the United Church Downtown Mission Windsor Inc.
- Ron Dunn is the DM Executive Director, holding the post since 2015, having first served as Director of Communications and Community Relations from 2011.
- 23% of the guests at the DM have lived in Windsor less than a year.
- DM currently employs 65 full-time and part-time staff in the downtown core with a volunteer base of almost 800.
- Nearly every major city in Canada locates their homeless mission/sanctuaries on accessible main thoroughfares in the downtown core.
- Having outgrown their current facilities, the board directed a search for larger accommodations. They looked at the vacant office tower at 880 Ouellette Avenue, immediately east of WPL, but found it lacking in load capacity and structural worthiness.
- The DM looked at the closed-up Bowlero building and property on Tecumseh Road West in Windsor, which would have met most of their needs, but the owner wouldn’t sell.
- The DM explored seven or eight downtown area properties, but none were for sale or cost effective. Included in their search was the vacant Green Shield building at McDougall Street and Giles Blvd., old hotel properties, as well as vacant land in the downtown core.
- The DM board determined that WPL property represented the DM’s best opportunity, dollar for dollar, for a solidly constructed city core facility.
- After the City of Windsor decided they were looking for a new location for the main branch of the WPL, the DM approached the city to purchase the building and the parking lot east of the building (107 spots). They were two separate, yet related offers, since the parking lot is under City of Windsor control, but the WPL is under the WPL Board control.
- An agreement of $3.6 million was reached, including $400,000 for the municipal parking lot. WPL also purchased the shuttered restaurant on Dufferin Avenue, just north of the WPL. It has been transformed into a virtual 11,000 sq. ft walk-in freezer to accommodate the weekly haul of fresh produce from the county.
- When completed, the new facility will grow to approximately 102,000 sq. ft from its 40,000 sq. ft at the church location, and 58,000 sq. ft at 875 Ouellette. Everything will be under one roof: Administrative offices, food pantry, clothing store, Wellness, Enterprise and Distress Centre programs will occupy the main floor; the Sanctuary Program will locate on the second floor with room for 125 beds for the guests. Also, there will be 34 small “apartments” (300 sq. ft) to assist those transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency, on the second floor on both the south and north sides.
- The current north and south driveways, beside the building, will be closed. Entrance to the building will be from a privacy fence enclosed walkway from Dufferin Avenue along the south side. The existing north driveway will also be enclosed behind privacy fencing and will be the guest’s courtyard.
- The type of fencing fronting Ouellette Avenue will be a decision arrived at by the DM and the City of Windsor. Concepts being considered are landscape berms with a concrete “living wall” with greenery and foliage to afford the guests their privacy from Ouellette Avenue pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and to mitigate the concerns of area residents.
So, my friends, I leave it up to you to decide how you feel about the DM and their planned relocation to the WPL property.
The homeless situation is not going away until a concerted effort is made by all three levels of government to enact serious measures to address and alleviate the poverty, addiction and mental health afflicting our cities.
Until they do, we will have the homeless populating our downtown city and residential streets — and they WILL grow in number — especially if they have no place of refuge.
So, what say you?