Organizations that provide shelter services in London, Ont., are preparing for cuts to the number of beds their facilities can provide as the city works to renew a number of homelessness prevention contracts.
The reduction in beds stems from a new rule in an ongoing request for proposal (RFP) from the City of London.
The RFP, which was published on the city’s website for bids and tenders in September, instructs relevant organizations to have a “maximum of 50 emergency shelter beds per location.”
The city’s contracts with shelter services are set to expire on March 31, 2022, meaning new contracts would take effect the following day.
Craig Cooper, the city’s director of housing stability services, says the process leading up to the RFP “allowed us to really look at understanding what has changed in a shelter system that hasn’t gone through any kind of reassessment over the last probably 10 or 15 years.”
That process, which kicked off with an update to London’s housing stability action plan, included significant community consultation that revealed a desire to decrease the need for and reliance on shelter beds in London, and shift toward a more “housing-focused” approach, said Cooper.
“So we don’t want to see the 100-type, 150-type shelter beds. A lot of people were indicating they can’t feel safe in those spaces, they’re not meeting their need for low barrier, as well as other indicators through the survey that we undertook,” Cooper added.
That feedback led to the 50-bed cap for shelter services included in the RFP, but Cooper says the city plans to continue funding 300 shelter beds throughout London, as it does currently.
“The shelters play an important role in our system, I think what we need to really focus on is how do we, as a housing stability system service, support individuals who have to go to shelter? We’re using an emergency shelter as just that, it’s an emergency situation,” Cooper said.
“For far too long, I think a number of our folks in shelter have been blocked to getting housing, and so what we’re looking at is making sure this system is nimble and is formulated so that (an) individual’s experience at shelter is minimized.”
Cooper added that he won’t know what local agencies will apply for until the RFP closes on Oct. 13.
The new limit for shelter beds would mean a reduction to the 117 beds at The Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope.
“It’s a large number; it’s more than half,” said executive director Jon DeActis.
DeActis says the Centre of Hope is working on its own application for the city’s RFP, but notes there are a lot of unanswered questions in the meantime.
“Until we see the end of (the RFP), it’s hard to know what the next steps are … we’ll wait and see and continue to work with the city and the other shelters and see what the numbers look like and we’ll go from there.”
Mission Services of London executive director Peter Rozeluk says he had been expecting changes for shelter services in London, adding that the city had been “signalling that for a while.”
“Certainly when you have large changes like this it is disruptive, but disruption can be for good too,” Rozeluk said.
“It will present challenges and the biggest challenge clearly is the loss of the number of beds at Men’s Mission, and potentially at Rotholme Family Shelter and Salvation Army.”
Like DeActis, Rozeluk says the final impact won’t be revealed until the RFP closes.
In the meantime, Mission Services of London is preparing for a reduction in the emergency shelter beds it provides at Men’s Mission and Rotholme Family Shelter, which includes taking a look at how to better use its facilities.
“There’s certainly going to be other uses, we have no idea what they’re going to be at that time, but we’ve got several months to try and figure that one out,” Rozeluk said.
After the RFP closes on Oct. 13, city staff will then review and evaluate all submissions before sending a recommendation to city council.
Council is scheduled to grant a final approval on Dec. 21.