Pets, artwork, quiet rooms: New guidelines recommend ‘home-like’ feel for Toronto homeless shelters

Art on the walls. More sunlight. Sound-absorbing finishes that cut down on background noise. Quiet rooms.The city wants its homeless shelters to feel less institutional for users and have more of a “home-like” atmosphere and these are among the recommendations aimed at accomplishing that, according to new design guidelines for the buildings.Shelter Design and Technical Guidelines, a document commissioned and released by the city’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), calls for a host of changes that would, among other things, reduce experiences of trauma for clients.Shelters should be designed to help “build emotional well-being, confidence and independence. So people feel safe in the space, so they can do other work they need to do individually (to improve their lives),” says Justin Lewis, director for infrastructure planning and development for the SSHA.The guidelines, which aren’t mandatory, could be applied to new shelters built in the coming years or any renovations to existing ones.Among some of the key recommendations in the lengthy document are calls for the reduction or removal of “known adverse stimuli” to create a calm, welcoming, home-like and safe environment “that promotes the ability to de-escalate conflict.”That includes avoiding situations that lead to crowding in shelters, such as reducing the need for shelter users to line up to access services within the buildings.In this vein, shorter hallways are also recommended.The guidelines also urge the city to reduce stress in shelters by including “acoustic and visual elements,” the latter including artwork.“Use sound-absorbent finishes to minimize background noise and reverberation, particularly in spaces where oral communication is common — such as reception areas, dining rooms, lounges, interview rooms, etc.,” the guidelines also state.New shelters or future renovations to existing ones should have more quiet rooms for clients when they need privacy, according to the document.Space such as rooms where clients sleep will benefit from fewer people and when the number of people can’t be reduced, sound masking systems should be available.In addition, more natural light should be encouraged because it has “therapeutic antidepressant effects.” Some city shelters already allow or plan to permit users to bring their pets inside, including those on Kingston Road, Islington Avenue and Runnymede Road. This should be expanded, the guidelines urge. In fact, the “best practice” to improve shelter outcomes is to allow pets to be in the same sleeping room as its owner: “The ability for a shelter user to have their pet with them within their own space helps normalize their lives and takes away from the institutional perception that can be produced when separate pet kennels are provided,” the document says. Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention services, says the city has heard feedback from shelter users about how essential companionship from their pets is when it comes to making the decision whether or not to go from outdoors into a shelter.“People get distressed about being separated from their pets,” Tanner says.The guidelines were developed by a team that included architects, housing development consultants, a design consultant, an expert on accessibility, mechanical and electrical engineers and more.Lewis points out there was also extensive community engagement, including with members of the Black and Indigenous community — who make up a large portion of shelter users in Toronto — as well as homeless youth, members of the LGBTQ community, people with accessibility issues, and more.“The hope and intent is to foster more positive outcomes for shelter users,” Lewis says.The city wants to rely less on shelters and get more homeless people into permanent housing. Shelters should mostly be for people experiencing “episodic homelessness,” a brief period of being without a home.The new guidelines don’t contradict those goals, Tanner says.“We want to modernize the shelter system to have aspects that are welcoming and well-integrated into local communities.“We hope shelters will bring more people inside to get the essential supports they need to move into permanent housing. The two go hand in hand. One isn’t meant to upstage the other.”Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent

Pets, artwork, quiet rooms: New guidelines recommend ‘home-like’ feel for Toronto homeless shelters

Art on the walls. More sunlight. Sound-absorbing finishes that cut down on background noise. Quiet rooms.

The city wants its homeless shelters to feel less institutional for users and have more of a “home-like” atmosphere and these are among the recommendations aimed at accomplishing that, according to new design guidelines for the buildings.

Shelter Design and Technical Guidelines, a document commissioned and released by the city’s Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), calls for a host of changes that would, among other things, reduce experiences of trauma for clients.

Shelters should be designed to help “build emotional well-being, confidence and independence. So people feel safe in the space, so they can do other work they need to do individually (to improve their lives),” says Justin Lewis, director for infrastructure planning and development for the SSHA.

The guidelines, which aren’t mandatory, could be applied to new shelters built in the coming years or any renovations to existing ones.

Among some of the key recommendations in the lengthy document are calls for the reduction or removal of “known adverse stimuli” to create a calm, welcoming, home-like and safe environment “that promotes the ability to de-escalate conflict.”

That includes avoiding situations that lead to crowding in shelters, such as reducing the need for shelter users to line up to access services within the buildings.

In this vein, shorter hallways are also recommended.

The guidelines also urge the city to reduce stress in shelters by including “acoustic and visual elements,” the latter including artwork.

“Use sound-absorbent finishes to minimize background noise and reverberation, particularly in spaces where oral communication is common — such as reception areas, dining rooms, lounges, interview rooms, etc.,” the guidelines also state.

New shelters or future renovations to existing ones should have more quiet rooms for clients when they need privacy, according to the document.

Space such as rooms where clients sleep will benefit from fewer people and when the number of people can’t be reduced, sound masking systems should be available.

In addition, more natural light should be encouraged because it has “therapeutic antidepressant effects.”

Some city shelters already allow or plan to permit users to bring their pets inside, including those on Kingston Road, Islington Avenue and Runnymede Road. This should be expanded, the guidelines urge.

In fact, the “best practice” to improve shelter outcomes is to allow pets to be in the same sleeping room as its owner: “The ability for a shelter user to have their pet with them within their own space helps normalize their lives and takes away from the institutional perception that can be produced when separate pet kennels are provided,” the document says.

Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention services, says the city has heard feedback from shelter users about how essential companionship from their pets is when it comes to making the decision whether or not to go from outdoors into a shelter.

“People get distressed about being separated from their pets,” Tanner says.

The guidelines were developed by a team that included architects, housing development consultants, a design consultant, an expert on accessibility, mechanical and electrical engineers and more.

Lewis points out there was also extensive community engagement, including with members of the Black and Indigenous community — who make up a large portion of shelter users in Toronto — as well as homeless youth, members of the LGBTQ community, people with accessibility issues, and more.

“The hope and intent is to foster more positive outcomes for shelter users,” Lewis says.

The city wants to rely less on shelters and get more homeless people into permanent housing. Shelters should mostly be for people experiencing “episodic homelessness,” a brief period of being without a home.

The new guidelines don’t contradict those goals, Tanner says.

“We want to modernize the shelter system to have aspects that are welcoming and well-integrated into local communities.

“We hope shelters will bring more people inside to get the essential supports they need to move into permanent housing. The two go hand in hand. One isn’t meant to upstage the other.”

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent

Source : Toronto Star More