Working Centre builds "bunkie" shelter from shipping containers

The Working Centre is transforming two shipping containers in downtown Kitchener into temporary shelters for the city's homeless.

Units include electricity, heaters and mattress

Joe Mancini, director of The Working Centre, inside one of the two "bunkies" on 97 Victoria St. N. (Carmen Ponciano/CBC News)

The Working Centre in Kitchener is transforming two shipping containers into temporary housing for the city's homeless.

The two brown "bunkies" sit beside St. John's Kitchen downtown and are meant to provide basic shelter for people without a permanent place to stay.

"The reality for people is there are always 10 or 20 individuals who don't have a place to live," said Joe Mancini, director of the centre. "Whether they're tenting or sleeping inside of doorways… there's always been this understanding there's a group of people who – what we would call – sleep roughly."

Mancini said he calls the shelters "the rooms on Victoria" and added they will house two or three people at a time. The length of an occupants stay will depend on each individual and their specific circumstances.

"It could be two weeks, it could be a month, it could be two months," he explained. "It will be warm, it won't be fancy, but it will help them get their act together in the sense that this is a place where they know they have a place to live and now they can think, 'How can I get longer term shelter?'"

Heat, light, they 'smell all right'

The "bunkies" measure about 2.5m by 3m and feature a single window and locking door.

Thanks to good ventilation the shelters "smell all right too," said Mancini.

Inside the twin steel shipping containers a bed lies on the concrete floor. The makeshift rooms come with heat and electricity, but no plumbing – occupants will use washrooms in the main building, which is open at all hours.

Mancini said a plan to install composting toilets inside the units was blocked because the Ontario building code doesn't allow them where sewer services exist.

"The individual who would go into one of these rooms would have to know how to look after them," he said. "There are lots of people who tent who know exactly how to do that."

The shelters are coated in insulation and surrounded by a fence outside 97 Victoria St. N. where Mancini said the kitchen offers 300-500 of the area's homeless a place to get a meal every day.

He described the bunkies as "longterm" units that won't just be used during the winter.

"These units are going to be part of the landscape here," he said. "They're going to be here for years,"

Mancini said finding consistent shelter can be a problem for the city's homeless, especially people struggling with psychiatric challenges, but the storage containers can provide them with an alternative option.

"There are all kinds of reasons... a relationship breaks down and all of a sudden they find themselves with nothing," he said. "This is the kind of place that can be helpful."