Toronto buying four prefabricated structures as demand for emergency shelters surges

The city is purchasing four “highly sophisticated,” temporary structures as demand for emergency shelter and 24/7 respite sites remains high even after winter temperatures have subsided.

The four prefabricated structures, manufactured by Canadian company Sprung Instant Structures Limited, cost $2.5 million each, which does not include the cost to operate them. They are meant to serve as temporary sites where anyone in sudden need of a place to stay can rest, access food, showers and support services.

“We are currently working to secure appropriate, vacant city properties that will be used for these structures,” Paul Raftis, the city’s general manager of the shelter, support and housing administration division, told reporters on Wednesday. Each structure is expected to house 100 people, costing on average about $100 per person per day.

Two of the four sites are planned to be opened as soon as August, to replace two city-run, 24/7 respite sites at the Don Mills Civitan Arena and Lambton Arena. The city is looking at sites downtown and east and west of the core, Raftis said. No decisions have been made on locations, but Raftis said they are considering sites that are solid and level like parking lots and not parks.

Winter respite services, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, typically end April 15 with warming temperatures, but because of the high occupancy in the city’s emergency shelter system and a clear need for additional places for people to go, council directed staff to continue providing respite spaces.

The Sprung structures have been used in North America as temporary housing, emergency shelter, aquatic centres and classrooms, the city says, and could be repurposed when not needed as respite sites. As shelter, they will have washrooms, showers, laundry facilities and HVAC systems to provide temperature control. They are also accessible.

The city has been working toward implementing permanent standards for all respite sites, or rules around cleaning, the type of beds and the amount of space people need to have access to. Over the winter, health care providers and activists visited multiple sites, documented crowded conditions and spoke to people who reported feeling unsafe, or concerned about theft as well as verbal and physical violence and not having adequate access to showers and toilets. Interim standards have been in place since the winter.

At last count, 433 people stayed in eight existing respite sites and an additional 115 women sought refuge at two 24/7, year-round women’s only drop-ins. One drop-in site is Sistering, where women line up to sleep on about a dozen reclining chairs and the rest are left to find mats or free space on the floor.

“This place should not have to exist. These women should have proper places to live,” the agency’s executive director, Patricia O’Connell, speaking with the Star last year about the dire need for better services for vulnerable people.

“The only thing you can say is it is better than a women sleeping on a grate or in a park.”

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