For much of its 45 years, Street Haven has been synonymous with the name Peggy Ann Walpole. The little woman with a giant heart was the charismatic, passionate and determined founder of Street Haven. Peggy Ann became a nurse despite very poor and fragile health. She worked in Toronto’s St Michael’s Hospital emergency room and met many women with severe addictions as well as women who were badly beaten. Most were cared for a few days and then discharged.
Peggy Ann wondered where they went. In the 1950s, there were some hostels for men, but few places for women. Peggy Ann began to think she could help. Despite setbacks in her health and many surgeries, she had a dream and she pursued it. At the age of 30, from a hospital bed, she began to draw up her plans to start a drop in centre which would eventually expand into an emergency shelter. In 1965, Peggy Ann rented the beverage room of the old skid-row Atlanta Hotel complete with one table, four chairs, a thick layer of grime and the stench of stale beer. It was open 24 hours a day and soon women started coming by for a coffee, a sandwich and a chat - no strings attached.
Soon Street Haven was a registered charity with a board of directors. The next year, Street Haven moved to larger quarters on Terauley Street and opened a ten-bed, crisis overnight shelter nearby. By 1969 the Drop In had 200 regulars. Of these, 50 women had found jobs or started job training, but Peggy Ann worried that there was not enough room at Street Haven for the counseling and job-training programs she wanted. Driving to work one day, she spotted a stately, ivy-covered brick mansion on Pembroke Street and soon convinced the owner to sell it to her for $65,000.
That house became the heart of Street Haven as the organization grew and branched out. Over time, Peggy Ann developed supportive housing services, addictions services - both residential and community programs - and finally, a learning centre. Relentlessly, she pursued her vision of services for homeless women.
Her work was honoured often. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada and awarded the Ontario Good Citizenship Medal. The City of Toronto named one of its shelters ‘Peggy Ann Walpole House’. She did great work in her life and left a tremendous legacy. Peggy Ann Walpole died in 2006.