How London, Ont., is keeping unsheltered folks warm this winter at 652 Elizabeth St.

Craig Cooper (left) and Debbie Kramers, a pair of city managers tasked with homeless prevention, walk through 652 Elizabeth St. as the site gets ready to house unsheltered individuals over the winter. Andrew Graham / Global News

Just in time for Christmas, London, Ont., is gearing up to welcome more than two dozen guests to a pop-up shelter site at 652 Elizabeth St.

On Tuesday, city staff provided Global News with a tour of the site that’s set to be up and running come Wednesday evening.

Read more: City council approves winter response program set to support Londoners facing homelessness

The site at 652 Elizabeth St. is one of four sites providing additional spaces in the coming months as part of the city’s Winter Response Program for Unsheltered Individuals.

The program will add 60 overnight spaces, at 652 Elizabeth St. and at a privately owned parking lot downtown, along with 60 day spaces, at the Hamilton Road Seniors Centre and at the Dundas Field House on Dundas Place.

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Approved by city council earlier this month, the program aims to respond to a lack of shelter and an increased demand for space that’s been brought on by the pandemic.

652 Elizabeth St. will provide 30 overnight spaces in a set of trailers that have been retrofitted to accommodate living and COVID-19 guidelines.

“We have accommodation for three rooms on site for couples, if they present as a couple, and all other rooms are individual,” said Debbie Kramers, London’s coordinated informed response manager.

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652 Elizabeth St. also comes with a washroom and shower contained inside a retrofitted trailer that was donated by the London Fire Department. There is also a common room serving as the centrepiece of the site, which will provide day space for unsheltered individuals.

“It will allow people to come and eat their three meals that are provided a day and it will allow them to just be in and out of the cold during the day and use this space when they need to be in here,” Kramers added.

Craig Cooper, London’s manager of homeless prevention, says 652 Elizabeth St. will be accepting individuals based on a matching and linking process that’s gone on for months.

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The process assesses a number of needs and interests, including whether or not someone actually wants to come to the site.

“We’re not looking to force people to come into this location, we do want them to attend on their volition,” Cooper said.

“We’re going to work with them around trying to make sure that they can get housing ready, trying to make sure that they’re looking to find housing if it’s appropriate, get their identification, make sure they have income… so that we can make sure we work towards finding people housing stability.”

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Those attending the site will also be subject to daily COVID-19 screenings.

“We have an isolation space that if people are testing or screening positive, they would go to the isolation space (and) wait for a COVID test. If they were positive, they would isolate in that location… if they were negative, then they would be transitioned back,” Cooper added.

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Along with the physical resources, 652 Elizabeth St. will also be staffed by dozens of workers from Ark Aid Street Mission Inc., a local charity that works to serve marginalized Londoners.

“We are hoping that this location can be a place where people who don’t fit the mold of traditional societal norms can maybe find a new place to find hope for the next steps in their lives,” said Ark Aid’s executive director Sarah Campbell.

Campbell adds that all future guests at 652 Elizabeth St. have been identified and that staff will be following up with them on Wednesday morning to make sure they still want to come.

Staff will also spend the morning applying the finishing touches so that everything’s ready by the evening.

“There is going to be a good Christmas for at least 30 people that would’ve otherwise been alone, outside and cold,” Campbell said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article had incorrectly stated a supervised consumption site would be placed at 652 Elizabeth St. Staff there will be trained on naloxone use, but there will be no supervised consumption site at the pop-up shelter.

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