Mission Services leaves longtime James North location in downtown Hamilton

Mission Services plans to move its downtown Hamilton men’s shelter to a larger renovated building.

The move is part of a deal with local developer Core Urban, which has purchased the James Street North property.

Core Urban is renovating a three-story building on King Street East, just east of Wellington Street South, to serve as a new men’s shelter.

With the move, Mission Services retains its 58 emergency beds and adds 50 self-contained transitional housing.

But the relocation is not without controversy.

Com. Nrinder Nann reports an “over-concentration” of shelters and related services in his central Hamilton neighborhood.

Mission Services, meanwhile, says it couldn’t pass up the site at 400 King St. E.

“When this opportunity came up at this location, in terms of our needs to be able to serve our customers, it was a good choice,” said Wendy Kennelly, Associate General Manager.

Core Urban is delighted to acquire the Mission Services property in James and Barton, home to two three-storey buildings.

“It’s a great turn. It’s a gateway to the waterfront,” said co-founder Steve Kulakowsky.

For now, the plan is to redevelop office space there, but later he sees a mix of denser residential and commercial development on the site.

“When the time comes, whatever we do to James and Barton will fit into the neighborhood.”

Core Urban’s earlier work includes the six-story Templar Flats on King William Street, which add two buildings and include restaurants on the ground floor.

This is not the first time the company has worked with Mission Services.

He bought the brick school site from the social services agency on Murray Street, just north of Barton, and turned it into the six-story Witton Lofts in 2013.

Potential buyers have approached Mission Services “many times” over the years, Kennelly said. The refuge has been on James North since 1956.

“The discussion I always had with them was that we would be open, but you have to find us a suitable place. It has to be a better facility than what we have.

Proximity to services was also essential. “It’s important to the customers we serve,” Kennelly said.

The 400 King location is close to St. Patrick’s Parish, where people line up for meals, and not far from the Wesley Urban Ministries Day Center on Catharine Street North.

Kennelly and Kulakowsky declined to discuss financial details of the transaction.

According to ownership records, Core Urban purchased 400 Kings from the Red Cross for $3.15 million in January.

Once the work is complete – the aim is before winter arrives – the property will be handed over to Mission Services.

The century-old brick building, which was covered in siding, has potential, Kulakowsky said.

“The big wooden beams and posts…will be safe.” Just because it’s a shelter doesn’t mean it can’t be attractive both outside and inside.

The plans to move come amid a homelessness crisis that has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the public health emergency, the city has added accommodation space, including in hotel rooms and in the former Cathedral School at Main Street East and Emerald Street South.

This Good Shepherd-operated service opened to replace a converted surge shelter in downtown FirstOntario Centre, which was decommissioned in late 2020.

But pandemic relief funding from higher levels of government has dried up, and the city plans to scrap those temporary beds as part of a transition plan.

On Friday, the council backed $22.5 million in improvements to the basic shelter system as part of the phased strategy.

It’s not a “one-for-one replacement,” Angie Burden, chief executive of Healthy and Safe Communities, told city politicians during an initial committee discussion Thursday.

The shelter system was under pressure before the coronavirus, which only made things worse, she said. But the era of pandemic-level support from higher levels of government is over.

“It’s really a funding issue at this point,” Burden said.

Council asked staff to verify building permits and land use approvals as a condition of $3 million in capital funding for Mission Services’ new shelter.

Nann said the request comes down to “due diligence and transparency” in response to Ward 3 residents’ concerns. “There’s a narrative afloat that this is some sort of secret agenda. “

But she highlighted the “good work” of Mission Services, adding “there is no ‘no’ here” to the funding.

A day earlier, at the Emergency and Community Services Committee, Nann thanked residents for their “compassion” towards social services like the temporary cathedral shelter in their midst.

“It has not been an easy road to travel together due to the complexity of the issues that people experiencing homelessness face on a daily basis.

It left residents “feeling very uncomfortable, very uncomfortable” for two years.

Nann praised the efforts of the Good Shepherd – there should be a “shelter of this magnitude” in every neighborhood – but Ward 3 has an “over-concentration” of such services.

Additionally, “as we make room for private development in the downtown core, we are moving populations that have historically been served and cared for into neighborhoods in Ward 2.”

Now another shelter is leaving downtown for its constituency, Nann said.

There is no “secret warrant or conspiracy” to move the social service organizations into the territory of his colleague, the adviser. Jason Farr replied

“It has nothing to do with anyone in Ward 2, including this Ward Councilor, trying to move them to Ward 3.”

Some, however, said they would like to see another downtown shelter moved.

A development consortium that has struck a deal with the city to renovate its entertainment venues has asked the Salvation Army to consider moving its men’s shelter from York Boulevard if another nice location can be found.

As for mission services, they don’t have to leave James North, Kennelly said.

“There was no sense that we felt we had to leave this neighborhood. I think we were good neighbors there.

But aging buildings have posed challenges and limited opportunities for expansion, Kennelly said.

“We weren’t about to add floors above these old, old buildings to be able to offer additional new services.”

And the future purpose-built King East building will offer several benefits, including a new HVAC system and elevator, as well as an upper floor plan, kitchen and dining area.

“We’re really excited because we think adding these 50 beds is a great solution,” Kennelly added.

Mission departments did not want to release plans for the move until certain details, including city funding, were ironed out, she said.

But the plan is to organize a feedback and information session soon. “We absolutely intend to meet with the community.