London

Building inspectors to assess church tents for housing city's homeless

London's Homeless Prevention manager, Craig Cooper, says he has met with the pastor who plans to house some of the city's homeless in two large tents on the property of Beth Emanuel Church and is supportive of Dan Morand's plans. But Cooper says there are building code requirements that have to be met, and that building inspectors will visit the site this week.

Pastor Dan Morand says he wants to take 20 men off the streets and house them in tents this winter

The City says there are no building code issues with two tents that will house 20 homeless men in London during the winter months. The tents, part of the Urban Haven Project, are located on the property of Beth Emanuel Church in south-central London. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

London's Homeless Prevention manager, Craig Cooper, says he has met with the pastor who plans to house some of the city's homeless in two large tents on the property of Beth Emanuel Church and is supportive of Dan Morand's plans.

But Cooper says there are building code requirements that have to be met. Because of that, Cooper says building department inspectors will visit the site this week.

Cooper confirmed that the city has received several complaints about the project from "concerned citizens in the area" but said he didn't have any details.

Cooper said he thinks — as long as the necessary building requirements are in place — that the plan to house 20 homeless men as of January could likely proceed.

Earlier Monday, Morand spoke with the host of CBC's London Morning, Rebecca  Zandbergen, about his plans to help homeless men during the winter months.

Tell me about what you're hoping to do?

Well, what we were hoping to do is take 20 men from the street ... and not just house them, but work with them for three to four months to help them move forward into either employment, addiction help, school or whatever -- so they have some accountability. Our whole plan was to, not just shelter them but to move them forward, so they don't return to the streets.

How would you work with them?

There's a lot of wonderful services in the city that we don't have to duplicate. We have Wheable and the Centre of Lifelong Learning for the education part, Addiction Services for the addiction stuff. There's a lot of employment agencies here that we can work with, although we have qualified staff volunteers that have all those experiences, including myself. So, the whole idea was just to take 20 people and bring them over and then move them forward.

Pastor Dan Morand says he thinks the concerns of city building inspectors were alleviated when they got to see the tents for themselves. (Rebecca Zanbergen/CBC)

It sounds easy. What sort of problems have you been running into?

These are winter-grade Cabela tents. Cabela's Canada is a huge outdoor store. These tents are meant for winter. We've had many hunters visit us in the last week that chuckled because, they said, they use these tents for weeks up north and never have an issue. In fact, (with) the high winds that we've had this past week and the hail, the tents have not budged.

Have you had bylaw officers come by to expect them?

Absolutely, not. We've had nobody from Bylaw come by yet. We've had a lot of communication via the media but I haven't heard anything from Bylaw.

So what has been the red tape that you've been hearing about?

So what I've been hearing from the media is that there was a complaint at the beginning, and then it was up to five complaints.  We want to cooperate with the city, absolutely. We want to make sure things are safe. I think the two things that I've heard is that they're concerned with fire and load bearing.  Again, these are sturdy tents. I think I've heard somebody is coming out this week to take a look at them. We know what the bylaws are. We know that they're away from the buildings, the correct distance they should be. I don't know the rest. They'll have to check the tents out.

And are you hoping to heat the tents?

Absolutely, yes. We've had a construction company that's donated heaters. These tents come with wood stoves. I wasn't really comfortable with having a wood stove in there, so this company donated electric heaters to us. And then we've had about three or four electricians that offered to install them. These guys are competent.

And how do you hope to identify who will get a spot in these tents?

We've been working with a couple of agencies in the city who are identifying guys that just need that that extra help -- and maybe they're not what people think they are in the streets, they're just there by circumstance -- and people that we can work with, that we can move forward.

You've done this before, actually housing folks inside the church. Is that right?

Correct. We did it last year for the first time and we took a number of them in. And although it went it well, we wanted to tweak it a little bit more. We didn't want to just be a shelter, we wanted it to be something with a sense of purpose. Last year we started with 30 (people) at the beginning, because it was so cold. And then we tapered it back a bit. We chose this one group of 20 guys to work with.

What sort of success did you have last year?

We know a lot of the individuals. We know for sure that there's five of them that were housed and are still housed to this day, and we have four that (gained) employment, two that went back to school, and then the other ones they just kind of dropped off. And actually, unfortunately, we lost three in this past year that died.

What do you hope for these 20 guys?

We don't want them to come back to the streets.

Are things still up in the air?

Phase one is complete. So we have the tents and cots, and there were mattresses donated. Everything is ready to go as far as that (is concerned.)  Phase two is securing funding, and I would say we're about a third of the way.

And how much do you need?

We need about $40,000 to $50,000 to run the program.

Have you received community donations?

It's been individuals and small businesses in the area. Yeah, it's all come from the community.

And what do you make of the community outpouring you have received, so far?

Oh my goodness, it's just been amazing. I think people have been sharing their anger with just the lack of what's happened. It's just been put on the back burner for so long that now we're in a crisis. And I think they're frustrated. So they've just come to back us.

And when do you hope to have the guys inside the tents?

January. That's when we started last year, as well.

And they'll be living there for three or four months?

Yes.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.