City of Toronto Shelters

Interior photo of custom-built light in Davenport Shelter's entry foyer

We have been working for the City of Toronto Shelter, Support and Housing Administration division since 2019 to design shelter housing to expand their existing capacity.

Projects we’ve overseen include a 24-hour drop-in centre, shelters tailored for seniors and women, and reviewing the feasibility of redeveloping an existing shelter site.
The City has difficulty finding buildings to purchase for shelters due to its limitations as it is competing in the open real estate market, so in some cases the buildings are a challenge to design.

For example at 348 Davenport Road, the four-storey commercial building we repurposed as a shelter for 56 women, had windows only on two short sides of the building, making it impossible to provide private or semi-private rooms which require access to natural light.
Interior photo showing dormitory beds and existing windows in the background

Photo of stairwell with skylight and existing ornate metal banister

Photo of people talking at the intake desk area

Photo of cove lighting looking down corridor of one of the dormitory floors

Before starting on the design, our team visited existing Toronto shelters to speak to staff and residents to get a better understanding of their needs. We learned, for example, that some residents work at night.

To help people who need to sleep during the day in a dorm-room setting, we built individual light fixtures into the privacy screens between beds, so light doesn’t bleed into neighbouring beds. The hallways must be lit day and night, but diffused cove lighting keeps the dorm spaces in shadow.

Detail photo of privacy screen and built-in lighting
We had been inputting into a new shelter standard being developed by the City, but COVID-19 further exposed shortcomings with the shelter system and the City has been shifting its approach during the pandemic to increase physical distancing in existing and new shelters and to increase investment overall by housing people in hotel rooms and apartments.

“ Shelter design is equally challenging and rewarding. We need to create spaces that are safe, durable and hygienic for service workers, while providing environments of comfort and dignity for clients.

Through visiting existing sites, working with service providers, and speaking with clients, the shelters projects have given us a platform to advocate for people experiencing homelessness, and the opportunity to help in the fight for universal housing rights. ”

— Elaine Chau

Client: City of Toronto
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Date: 2019 to 2020
Team: David Colussi, Elaine Chau, and Kellie Chin
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