The Donwood Institute, located at 175 Brentcliffe Rd., just north of Eglinton Avenue, has been a destination of last resort for many people struggling with addiction, since Dr. Gordon Bell founded the drug and alcohol rehab centre in 1967.
Now as part of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) restructuring and the Queen Street redevelopment project, Donwood is closing down its doors forever and moving to a new and modern facility downtown. However, for some in the mental health community and for other stakeholders including the north Leaside community, the amalgamation of CAMH, and moving services downtown is contestable.
Doug Smith, a manager at Toronto East General Hospital’s Withdrawal Management Centre does not know what to expect of the Queen Street location.
“It is a wait-and-see game,” said Smith. “It can be a good thing, or it can be worse.” Nevertheless, starting next month the TEGH’s Withdrawal Centre has to refer its clients to new downtown facility.
Currently TEGH’s Withdrawal Centre, located in the Danforth Avenue and Donlands Avenue area, works with clients who want help overcoming their addiction. It does so by referring them to Donwood’s intensive drug and alcohol program, one of the best and most successful addiction programs in the country.
According to Dr. Bell’s daughter, Linda Bell, president and CEO of Bellwood Health Services, Dr. Bell’s vision was to offer a comforting setting for those who some health-care professions and society treated poorly and often stigmatized. The north Leaside location, on the edge of a ravine and surrounded by tall trees, with walking trails and breathtaking green space, seemed until now a perfect spot for Dr. Bell’s pragmatic endeavor.
Marlon Marrero, a former TEGH Withdrawal Centre’s addiction councillor and community youth worker with St Stephen`s Community House, Augusta Centre, also has concerns regarding the new location.
“I don’t like it,” Marrero said. “Downtown location is a bad idea.”
Often enough some communities resist having a drug and alcohol rehab centre amidst their community. This is contrary to the north Leaside community. It has embraced Donwood wholeheartedly in its backyard.
Now area residents are concerned by what they see as the hasty disposal of the Donwood facility by CAMH, that, according to the North Leaside Residents’ Association, is planning to sell the site as part of the organization’s plans to create a new service centre on Queen Street. Area residents want other health-care institutions to assume the Donwood facility. They are afraid the site is going to be turned into a new residential division, adding to the community’s already overburdened schools and roads in the area.
Jackie Campbell, walking her dog Chico on the Donwood grounds, did not know if the place is closing down by the end of this month.
“We’ll probably see 500 condos built in here,” Campbell said.
In 1998, Donwood, together with the Clark Institute of Psychiatry, the Addiction Research Foundation and the Queen Street Mental Health Centre came together to become part of CAMH. During that time, according to the North Leaside Residents’ Association website, taxpayers committed $8.5 million to renovate Donwood.
Now as part of yet another CAMH restructuring and with the initial phase of the Queen Street redevelopment project due to begin patient intake by the end of March, the last curtain is about to fall on Donwood.
Last year, when the North Leaside Residents’ Association learned about CAMH’s decision to sell Donwood, it successfully tried to make Donwood a provincial election issue. They distributed lawn signs to area residents that said ‘Stop The Health Care Waste’.
Soon CAMH halted its plans to sell Donwood and assured residents the site would not be on the market for about another five years.
Residents got positive results at the time in part because Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s education minister and MPP for Don Valley West and her political rival, Conservative candidate John Tory, both supported the residents’ association’s efforts to make sure Donwood remained in public hands. The two prominent politicians also promised residents in the riding at the time that Donwood would be operational until 2012.
However, CAMH has already made its decision to move out of North Leaside by the end of this month and there is no clear answer on the fate of the 9.5-acre health-care facility.