Extension ending to temporary shelter, are hotel rooms best alternative?

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Slated to close June 30, no more extensions are anticipated for the Emergency Winter Shelter Program at the corner of York and Colborne.

According to a report to council’s Community and Protective Services Committee, 20 to 25 people are still living in construction trailers converted into low-barrier housing.

“When we look at the short-term relief housing, there are some individuals who are going to need help on a more permanent basis,” Councillor Shawn Lewis told his colleagues on the committee.

Kevin Dickins, Deputy City Manager Old Social and Health Development admits it’s unlikely that everyone staying at the overnight shelter will find accommodations before the end of this month.

“For folk who are unable to connect to those programs, we would look to a temporary support that is staffed 24/7 at an alternate location.” explained Dickins. “That is likely to be a hotel.”

Ark Aid Street Mission warns, however, that the existing hotel room program hasn’t worked for some people experiencing homelessness.

The organization’s letter to the committee reads in part, “motel spaces have proven repeatedly to not be hospitable to our population, and where the physical space and landlords required a barriered and often demeaning approach to the sheltering people.”

There’s mounting pressure to find long-term alternatives to the tent encampments that have been erected on public lands in recent years.

“The hotel room are not going to be available to us in perpetuity,” explains Councillor Lewis. “There is going to come a time when the hoteliers say we’re not interested in renting those rooms to you anymore.”

Low-barrier housing, which accepts everyone needing shelter, has clear and simple barrier requirements.

City staff will soon launch community consultation for a Request for Proposals (RFP) that will seek bids from organizations that could offer low-barrier shelter in 2022.

Councillor Lewis says any long-term solution must consult with neighbours, and consider how to properly integrate low-barrier housing into an existing neighbourhood.

“If its not done right, it can be incredibly disruptive to a neighbourhood, and create a whole lot of concerns for residents.”