A one-of-a-kind refuge: Haven Toronto

Haven Toronto is Canada's only facility dedicated to serving elder homeless men.

Eighty-five years ago, Toronto activist May Birchard noticed veterans of war lining up for meals at a soup kitchen and believed it to be fundamentally wrong. Thus, Haven was born and continues to be the only dedicated facility in Canada serving men aged 50 and over, who are impacted by poverty, homelessness and isolation.

Central to Haven’s work is their meal program, which offers healthy, nutritious meals 3 times a day, 7 days a week. “We are open on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day. We’re open every single day, so our clients have the peace of mind of knowing there is a good healthy meal out there for them,” explains David Wannan, Director of Development, Haven Toronto.

Haven also offers housing support, access to dental hygienists, social workers and nurses, as well as a clothing bank and social activities.

Over this past year, Haven has served 52,000 meals and sees upwards of 250 individuals in their dining room for a meal.

“100% of the people we see here have missed a meal or gone days without eating because they don’t have the money,” explains David. “Second Harvest helps change that.”

Second Harvest is one of the main providers of fresh food for Haven, which is crucial in allowing their meal program to thrive. “We know that the fresh produce we offer is incredibly important. Our food budget is very limited, and the cost of produce is anticipated to rise more than 5% in the next year,” says David.

He goes on to explain the unique needs of Haven’s population. “Our elder client base, most of whom are homeless or impoverished, age at a much more rapid pace than the average individual and are slower to recover from illness and infection. To be able to provide them with a healthy nutritious meal on a regular basis makes a difference in their overall health and recovery,” says David. “To provide these healthy meals to guys who do not know where their next meal is coming from, to give them that peace of mind, that’s an incredible thing to offer. Without the support of Second Harvest, they might not eat.”

Raymond, a senior, has been coming to Haven for more than 20 years. “I lost my job, my belongings – they threw everything out on me,” he explains. For several years, he lived on the streets and in the shelter system, before securing permanent housing in a Toronto Community Housing building. Now an active volunteer who has also served on Haven’s board of directors representing clients, Raymond credits most of his success to Haven. He was able to re-establish a relationship with his children, become socially engaged, learn computer skills and regain his health.

“Without this place, a lot of the guys would be starving, because they can’t afford meals outside. Haven has helped me out a lot. If it wasn’t for here, my weight wouldn’t be coming back up again. I’ve been out there, scrounging to get a meal and it’s hard. The way the economy is going, it’s harder than ever,” he notes.

“The meals here are good! We get bacon and eggs for breakfast, as well as yogurt and fresh fruit. There’s mashed potatoes at lunch, chicken, pork, turkey, soup, dessert cake. We all eat and sit together like a family. Some guys come in who haven’t eaten since the day before. And they come here, and they’re happy.”

“What Second Harvest provides us in the way of the food we can prepare and offer – healthy meals, full meals, extensive meals – it’s just not possible without our partnership,” adds David.