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"These men ... just want to belong"

Each morning, at an all too early hour, Toronto’s homeless shelters toss their denizens onto the city’s mean streets, rain, snow or shine.

The City of Toronto estimated last year that there were almost 9,000 homeless people, a dramatic increase over the past decade. Statistics also suggest that those more than 50 years of age — the majority of them men — make up about 29 per cent of the total, the fastest growing group.

There is a place in the heart of downtown where the city’s homeless population is largely clustered — a place to go, really — for men over 50 that has been operating quietly and without fanfare for decades.

Appropriately called Haven Toronto, it sees about 400 clients daily, every day of the year.

“The streets for everyone is difficult and can be very precarious and violent.

But you are very much a target if you’re an older person. If you’re homeless, you carry everything with you and that makes you a very, very easy target to be robbed or assaulted. We hear about that daily here,” executive director Lauro Monteiro said. “Often I tell people in the community, if we weren’t here, where do you think these folks would go?”

Haven Toronto offers a range of services that go above and beyond its status as a drop-in centre, including $1 daily meals (if you can afford it, 30 per cent of clients can’t), access to showers, laundry machines, a clothing bank, television and internet access, a recreation program, a library and comfortable chairs.

Two full-time counsellors also help clients navigate the intricacies of government bureaucracy and ferret out