homeless shelter toronto

People are saying Toronto's new homeless shelter looks like a prison

The City of Toronto recently announced its winter services plan to help those experiencing homelessness throughout the colder months, and the first new shelter included in the plan opened its doors yesterday. 

The Better Living Centre located at Exhibition Place includes 100 beds and some extra spaces for when the city issues Extreme Cold Alerts, and it also features impermeable, see-through partitions surrounding each cot.

Photos of the interior began circulating on Twitter Tuesday, and many have been likening the living conditions to a prison.

Lorraine Lam, a homelessness advocate who works for Sanctuary, posted a thread about what the space is really like, and she said city workers showed up to encampments to move people to the BLC yesterday. 

"People were expected to pack everything today, without choice of warning. There is a two-bag limit. Upon arrival, residents were mandated to take showers; there was no hot water. Showers are in an outdoor RV set-up: 2 mens, 2 women's. Lights are turned on at 7am; out at 11pm," she wrote.

"Beds are separated by glass partitions. Individuals are not allowed to hang anything up for some personal privacy. There is a generic cafeteria spot in the middle of the space. Cameras are everywhere. There is no privacy."

Lam continued on to say the shelter is "like a dystopian prison," adding that residents living in encampments were told they either had to move to the BLC or face eviction from the parks where they've been living.

She said many of those residents had been hoping for offers for safe, private, long-term housing and "not to be warehoused with 99 other strangers in a giant gym."

And yet, the city maintains that this centre along with the roughly 460 other additional spaces being opened in shelters, 24-hour respite centres, hotel rooms and supportive housing units this winter are the safest and best options for those experiencing homelessness.

"All services identified under the 2020-2021 winter plan have been considered from the lens of providing safer services during the pandemic," a city spokesperson told blogTO, adding that the glass barriers have been added to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"The barriers meet all Fire Safety Code standards, and will be implemented in addition to the two-metre lateral distancing between beds/cots required by the current shelter standards directive."

But many are saying the glass barriers resemble literal boxes or cages, and some residents are wondering why the city is calling the shelter the "Better Living Centre" when literally no one would consider it a better way of living.

Jennifer Evans, a homelessness advocate and the CEO of software company SqueezeCMM, told blogTO she hopes the criticisms of the new shelter will lead to some much-needed improvements for the residents who'll be staying there this winter. 

"Comparisons to prisons in Deadpool movies are probably not what shelter designers were going for," she said.

"I doubt any of the residents themselves were consulted in this design. Having said that, it's a work in progress so let's hope we see some quick improvements."

Lead photo by

City of Toronto

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