City to use prefabricated structures to supplement shelter system this winter

Three newly-purchased prefabricated structures will be used to provide temporary shelter to the homeless over the coming months, as the city seeks to avoid another winter in which its shelter system is overwhelmed by increased demand.

The structures will be set up in addition to the city’s pre-existing winter respite sites.

The first one is slated to open up in the parking lot of Lamport Stadium in the city’s Liberty Village neighbourhood on Dec. 15 while the other two facilities will open at 351 Lake Shore Boulevard East and 701 Fleet Street in late January.

“The beauty of these facilities is that they are portable,” Paul Raftis, who is the general manager of Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) at the city told reporters during a morning news conference on Friday. “They have all the amenities of a traditional building but you can take them down and put them up and really use them for all kinds of other purposes as well.”

The city says that it will also open up a temporary respite site at the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place to provide shelter while the prefabricated structures are being set up. That facility will open as of Nov. 15 and will have the capacity for up to 200 beds.

City had trouble coping with demand in 2018

The city’s winter respite program was supposed to have 300 spaces in 2018 but those spaces filled up amid the extreme cold, leaving city staff scrambling to find other facilities to accommodate the homeless.

The winter respite program eventually grew to include 750 spaces, which included temporary facilities that were set up at the Better Living Centre and the Moss Park Armoury,

Speaking with reporters at city hall, Raftis conceded that staff had a hard time coping with demand last winter but he said that he is confident that those same issues won’t be repeated in 2019.

He said that there are about 600 respite spaces that will be available as of Nov. 15 with contingency plans in place on how to add additional spaces should they be required.

There will also be an additional 102 beds added to the city’s shelter by the end of December.

“We are very confident but you cannot predict demand,” Raftis said. “It is possible we receive many more people who are looking for shelter services and we will respond to that demand based on what is happening. We are committed to taking care of the most vulnerable in our city.”

Communications will be improved: Raftis

On top of the extra respite beds that will be available to the homeless this winter, Raftis also said that improvements have been made to the city’s intake and referral system.”

Last March, Ombudsman Susan Opler found that staff provided “overwhelmingly outdated, inaccurate and inconsistent” information about Toronto’s shelter system and in at least three cases told members of the public that a given facility was full when dozens of beds were available

“We have added staffing and we have also improved technology,” Raftis said. “Already, in a short period of time have seen very dramatic performance improvement and we expect that to continue.”

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