Toronto issues new shelter design guidelines with advice from those with lived experience

shelter design guidelines

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The City of Toronto has created new shelter design guidelines based on consultation that lays out best practices in the design of new permanent shelters.

Guidelines cover a broad range of areas from design approaches and principles to functional components of the building, environmental design, materials and finishes, incorporating directives already in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the shelter system.

“These shelter design guidelines offer guidance for the City and private sector on how physical improvements can be implemented in existing and new shelters as they are renovated, designed and built this year,” said Deputy Mayor Michael.

“These Guidelines will continue to be updated to be useful in years to come not just as a blueprint on how to improve built structures, but with tangible ways to enhance the experience of our most vulnerable residents who reside in shelters as we support them to move towards more independent living.”

The Guidelines include input from a wide range of stakeholders including Indigenous people, Black people, people of colour, LGBTQ2S+, those with accessibility needs and youth who experience homelessness.

Key elements:

  • Adding community space inside the shelter to help integrate the site into the neighbourhood
  • Making sites more accessible for those of different cultural backgrounds, ages, shapes and sizes, physical, sensory and cognitive abilities, gender identities and needs
  • Creating a welcoming, more home-like setting with pet-friendly options, less institutional design and more natural light
  • Focusing on supporting the needs of persons who have experienced trauma and providing support for cultural and spiritual practices
  • Helping build confidence, independence and emotional well-being
  • Providing privacy and offering choice, while not sacrificing safety
  • Creating space for positive, safe relationships between shelter users, staff and community
  • Supporting measures for infection prevention and control, harm reduction approaches, and physical and mental health supports
  • Incorporating sustainable, durable and resilient design, so City shelters are effective in minimizing energy use and operating costs

The guidelines are intended to assist those designing and building shelters to incorporate best practices and lessons learned through use of existing facilities, so that new and renovated sites respond to evolving needs of those experiencing homelessness.

City-owned locations that have recently been renovated incorporating elements of the new guideines include 3306 Kingston Rd., 731 Runnymede Rd. and 2671 Islington Ave. Locations are pet-friendly and offer smaller shared sleeping spaces. Sites that are currently under development or construction will include many of the best practices outlined in the Guidelines.

Interim COVID-19 response measures that have been incorporated into existing shelters and are referenced in the Guidelines include:

  • Active screening of staff, clients and visitors; temperature checks and physically distancing beds;
  • Distancing for daily living spaces, including separations within dining areas; outdoor amenity spaces; specialized program space;
  • Enhanced cleaning and Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and mandatory mask wearing in common areas.

Toronto’s shelter standards and the 24-hour respite site standards have also been updated in accordance with public health guidance.

Guidelines are intended to “help foster more positive outcomes and experiences for all shelter users, staff and the community through designs that promote dignity, comfort and choice for people experiencing homelessness and prepares them for independent living.”

“The shelter design guidelines are based on input from staff, partner agencies and those with lived experience, so new and renovated shelter sites feel more welcoming and less institutional,” said Mary-Anne Bédard, general manager, shelter, support and housing administration.

“Our goal is that sites include designs that foster more healing as people deal with trauma,” said substance abuse and mental health and move towards a place of their own with support. We have taken some of the best practices from existing shelters so new and renovated sites are better integrated into the community, provide more natural light, dignity and choice.”


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