Portable shelters near McMahen Park part of city's homeless winter relief plan

The city of London is setting up two temporary overnight shelters in portables, including one beside the skate park in McMahen Park, as part of a temporary emergency plan to provide safe warm spaces for people sleeping rough in the downtown core.

Plan also includes day spaces to get people sleeping rough out of the cold ahead of winter

The temporary overnight shelters announced Monday will have room to sleep about 80 people. City officials estimate there are currently about 120 people who regularly sleep outside in the city core. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

The city of London plans to set up two temporary overnight shelters using clusters of portables — including one beside the skate park near the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre — as part of a temporary winter emergency plan to provide safe, heated spaces for people who sleep rough in the downtown core. 

Unveiled Monday morning, the city's winter relief plan will also include a second overnight shelter in a group of portables at a surface parking lot in the core. That location is expected to be made public soon, once the city works out details with the lot's owner. 

The two overnight shelter locations, which the city refers to as "resting spaces," will have beds for about 30 people with about five or six people per portable. The overnight spaces will include washroom, shower and laundry facilities. 

The city's plan also includes day spaces operating from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  There will be one at each of the overnight shelter locations, along with two others: One at the Hamilton Road Seniors Centre (525 Hamilton Rd., near Trafalgar), the other will operate out of a storefront location at 177-179 Dundas St., just east of Richmond. 

According to a staff report, the day spaces are intended as "a place to get out of the cold, access basic needs and build a sense of community in a socially distanced environment."

Each day space can accommodate 30 people at a time.

The city hopes to have both the night and day spaces up and running by mid-December. The overnight spaces will use screening protocols for COVID-19, and provide supports and services for people suffering from addiction and mental health issues. 

The overnight shelters will be staffed around the clock and include a perimeter construction fence for security, city officials said. The report says staff considered using empty buildings in the core for shelter spaces, but said they wouldn't meet the immediate need mainly due to the time and money needed to make capital upgrades.

Shelters won't meet all of the need

This storefront on Dundas Street east of Richmond will be used as one of two day resting spaces that are included in the city of London's winter homeless relief plan. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC)

Together the two overnight shelter spaces will be able to accommodate up to 60 people, which city officials admit will fall short of providing a bed for everyone who needs one. Officials estimate there are currently about 120 people who regularly sleep unsheltered in London's downtown core. 

The winter relief plan is intended to be a series of temporary measures to address both the ongoing housing crisis in London and the threat of COVID-19 infection among those who regularly sleep rough. For now, the shelters are expected to be in place until the spring.

Kevin Dickins, the city's acting manager of housing, said COVID-19 has added to an already desperate need for housing in London. 

"This is an emergency response," he said during a briefing about the plan Monday. "This would not be an intervention that is long-term. It's not an intervention that is going to solve homelessness in the city of London. But it is something that we can do temporarily that will provide safe space for people to come in, sleep and have their belongings with them. 

"It's not a plan that will be perfect, but we want to maintain those life-saving services." 

As part of these steps, the city intends to move those people currently living in an encampment of tents and makeshift shelters near the Thames River south of Maitland Street. 

City officials say it's an unsafe spot for overnight sleeping because of its location on a flood plain. 

A staff report pegs that cost of the winter relief plan at $972,000 in 2020, a total that includes the purchase of the portables. The costs in 2021 are estimated to be $1.3 million. For now the cost is covered in already-approved COVID-19 relief measures in the operating budget, including a $5 million operating surplus. 

The city is currently housing people in 200 shelter spaces, including 122 hotel rooms and 15 resting spaces.

"This provides an additional solution to what we're already doing to help some members of our most vulnerable population get out of the cold this winter," said Dickins. 

The winter relief plan is going to council's Community and Protective Services Committee on Tuesday night for initial approval, before going on to full council. 


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