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Temporary homeless shelter proposed at Peterborough Community Services building on Wolfe St.

Click to play video 'Peterborough looking at a temporary replacement for the overflow shelter' Peterborough looking at a temporary replacement for the overflow shelter
City staff will be recommending a new location for a temporary emergency shelter and isolation site to city council on Monday evening. And the new space will have some positive changes for those using the site.

A Peterborough city staff report recommends a temporary homeless shelter and isolation site be established at the city’s community services building on Wolfe Street to replace an existing overflow shelter.

On Monday, city council will review the report submitted by Sheldon Laidman, commissioner of community services, which reviewed a number of facilities to further help the city’s homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic. The building at 210 Wolfe St. is currently not being used by staff as they are able to work from home during the pandemic, Laidman says, and that’s expect to continue for an extended time.

Read more: Coronavirus — Brock Mission, overflow shelter bed program in Peterborough reopening next week

The building would replace the temporary overflow shelter at the Murray Street Baptist Church. The new 30-bed, 15-housing unit Brock Mission homeless shelter remains under construction and is not expected to open until March 2021.

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In his report, Laidman says the Wolfe Street site “allows for the greatest occupancy” of any option to meet a “surge in demand.” The facility, near the downtown, is also near other client services and requires limited capital upgrades as a full 24/7 shelter. Around-the-clock services was a factor Peterborough Public Health officials were advocating during the early stages of the pandemic.

“This significantly greater bed occupancy capability would alleviate additional system risks of other shelter facilities such as YES or Cameron House needing to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak or a sudden lack of staffing,” Laidman states.

Laidman says if council doesn’t accept the proposal, the city would continue to use the overflow shelter at Murray Street Baptist Church until the existing agreement expires on Dec. 31, which was extended for two months from the original deal.

“Staff have requested that the (Murray Street) congregation consider allowing an extension until the new Brock Street Mission opens. It is not certain that the congregation will support such an extension,” he said.

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Laidman says the current system of supports at Brock Mission and the Overflow Shelter allows for a capacity of 49 beds, which is currently meeting demand on most nights. However, there is concern the demand will increase during the winter months.

From March until late July, the city used the Peterborough Sport and Wellness Centre (PSWC) in the west end as an emergency shelter officials said the downtown facilities at 120 Murray St. (a building adjacent to the former St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church) and  Murray St. Baptist Church were unable to offer proper physical distancing for its clients. The addition of medical-grade bed dividers allowed clients to return to both Murray Street sites.

Meanwhile, the search for a new temporary site began in May but expressions of interest garnered no responses, Laidman said. Staff then assessed a number of sites for either one or two locations for a temporary shelter setup.

Among the sites reviewed and reasons they were excluded were:

  • Northcrest Arena: Extensive and costly repairs and upgrades needed.
  • Kinsmen Civic Centre: Facility is now fully open as a twin-pad ice rink.
  • The Mount Community Centre: Accessibility issues.
  • Peterborough Collegiate Vocational School: Was considered before the PSWC was chosen as a temporary shelter; physical layout deemed to be inappropriate for a shelter and difficult to supervise. Proximity to Peterborough Day Care Centre also a consideration.
  • Peterborough Armoury: Firearms on-site and prohibitive security needed to maintain the location.
  • Morrow Building: Deemed unsuitable for shelter services.
  • Master’s College and Seminary (780 Argyle St.): When contacted, site preparation was underway to bring students back into the school in September.
  • Townsend Street Public Works building: Removed due to inadequate facility space and active use by Peterborough Transit.
  • King George Public School: Active construction site for the new school being built on Hunter Street East and not safe for shelter services.
  • Evinrude Centre multi-purpose room: Was touted as the original best option for the entire homeless system. However, it was eliminated from consideration due to the COVID-19 protocols and distancing requirements to operate the connected twin-pad arena, which is now operational. The multi-purpose room will be “essential” to ensure the arena can be used at its full capacity to ensure proper congregation of teams prior to their ice times. The multi-purpose room also continues to be the emergency backup location for Peterborough Regional Health Centre if COVID-19 overwhelms the hospital system space.
  • Peterborough Library auditorium: Library recently reopened. The space was used in 2019 as a temporary shelter. The auditorium space is currently being used for additional storage of books required to be quarantined for seven days and storage of excess furniture due to spacing requirements in the library.
  • Naval Club (24 Whitla St.): Property is to be acquired by the city by the end of November and could provide 36 beds with physical distancing. However, the property would be difficult to supervise and is used by a community horseshoe club.
  • Community Training and Development Centre (681 Monaghan Rd):  Would allow for 35 beds, office space and kitchen, but is located next to a school and neighbourhood.
  • Former St Andrew’s Church (441 Rubidge St.): Currently vacant and could provide up to 28 beds. The site would require extensive capital upgrades and the term of any lease would be similar to one with the Murray Street Church overflow shelter.

“As the search for a new site to replace the PSWC progressed, it became apparent there were limited options for all shelter clients to be housed in one location,” the report states. “The objective shifted to finding a location that would replace the overflow shelter (Murray StreetBaptist Church) while maintaining services at Brock Mission (St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church).”

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Unique shelter users/average number of people accessing overflow per night:

  • January: 223/18
  • February: 210/19
  • March: 184/11
  • April: 181/0
  • May: 162/0
  • June: 152/0
  • July: 172/10
  • August: 172/8
  • September: 160/1

The city has also been using an isolation system to ensure homeless people can isolate following a test for COVID-19 or if they show symptoms. As of Oct. 6, the report says social services has arranged 120 motel stays for individuals for self-isolation pending the results of a test (87 individuals). The report says it cost about $100,000 a month for the service early in the pandemic and was recently reduced to about $50,000 a month.

Of note, the city’s homeless shelter system has not had a positive case of COVID-19.

“This is costly as it involves booking blocks of motel rooms along with additional costs for security, transportation, staff to monitor, and meals. Staff are continuing to pursue funding from the Ministry of Health and looking at cheaper options as these costs are not sustainable within the municipal budget alone,” the report states.

If the Wolfe Street site is chosen, staffing costs would increase to $31,500 for a 24/7 operation, up from $16,500 at the overflow shelter. Anticipated capital costs would be less than $50,000.

The city would aim to recoup the full operational, capital and building maintenance costs through various provincial funding programs.

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