Home / Blog / ‘The era of tenting is over’: Peterborough council backs modular homes for Wolfe Street site

‘The era of tenting is over’: Peterborough council backs modular homes for Wolfe Street site

Jan 04, 2024Jan 04, 2024

Shelter will be fenced off from neighbours under new plan.

Under a new city plan, modular homes would be set up to replace the tents that have been set up near the Wolfe Street overflow shelter for more than a year.

There could be series of modular homes installed by October outside the overflow homeless shelter at 210 Wolfe St. — where there is currently a tent encampment — now that councillors have endorsed it as part of a larger plan to help alleviate homelessness.

"I support this — I have faith that it's going to work," said Coun. Alex Bierk, the city's vice-chair of homelessness and housing.

Mayor Jeff Leal supported it too, saying it will be the end of people without homes living in tents on the Wolfe Street property.

Leal expects an encampment of about 24 tents — which has been on Wolfe Street all winter — will be gone under the new plan.

"The era of tenting is over: we can't allow it. We just can't allow it," Leal said.

Under a set of new recommendations from city staff — endorsed by councillors at their committee meeting, Monday — the city would also convert the current Wolfe Street overflow shelter into a winter overnight drop-in centre for people without homes.

The idea would be to offer washrooms, showers, food and storage, and do away permanently with the One Roof Community Centre program (people could be fed in the Wolfe Street drop-in centre instead).

The drop-in building will also have offices for workers from social agencies who might help people who need homes; there would furthermore be on-site security.

There would also be storage for people's belongings, and the property would be fenced off from the neighbourhood.

The city wants to see the plan implemented by fall, although some of the details — such as how long the modular structures would remain there, and what exactly they’d look like — have yet to be determined. Councillors were being asked to support the concept, so staff can determine more details.

The plan is expected to be a temporary one, although city community services commissioner Sheldon Laidman said he's yet to determine exactly how long the Wolfe Street arrangement might need to exist as a response to a worsening homelessness crisis.

The recommendations carried 7-4. Voting against them were Coun. Dave Haacke, Coun. Andrew Beamer, Coun. Don Vassiliadis and Coun. Lesley Parnell.

Voting in favour were Coun. Joy Lachica, Coun. Alex Bierk, Coun. Gary Baldwin, Coun. Keith Riel, Mayor Jeff Leal, Coun. Matt Crowley and Coun. Kevin Duguay.

It isn't a done deal, however. The plan still needs a final vote at a city council meeting in two weeks.

Citizens have a chance to register in advance to speak to councillors about it at that meeting, prior to the vote.

"We are in a crisis," said Coun. Keith Riel, the city's housing and homelessness chair.

Until the city can build enough rent-geared-to-income housing for all who need it, Riel said, the modular home plan is a good one.

He said that's because it offers people the units plus porta-potties, 24/7 security, meals, lockers and on-site social agencies providing further services.

However Riel apologized to the neighbours around Wolfe Street, vowing "the wild west show" of the encampment won't persist.

He also said that this plan is the best one the city's been able to develop — and that if nothing's done, the encampment of 40 tents that overwhelmed Victoria Park in the summer of 2019 "will look like a Sunday social" compared to the proliferation of tents that Peterborough could soon see.

"This is the plan. Is it forever and a day? No," Riel said. "We are going to build housing ... But right now we have a crisis."

Bierk said the plan was well thought-out, not someone's idea scribbled on a napkin.

"Mark my words: this will be better than what we have now," he said. "This is a radically different approach ... We are meeting people where they are at ... We’re going to be nimble and quick — and we’re going to do it."

The staff recommendation is for the property to be a low-barrier one, meaning people could use the modular units and the drop-in while drinking or using drugs.

Coun. Dave Haacke had concerns about that.

"Where should it (a low-barrier compound for people who are homeless) go? I don't know. But I know it shouldn't go in a residential neighbourhood," Haacke said.

Haacke further predicted it won't eradicate tenting; he said people will leave the area and camp elsewhere.

It's a good, timely report, he said: "But it doesn't give us what we’re all looking for, which is a no-tent scenario."

"The model we currently have — we really have destroyed the neighbourhood. And we have to do better — we really do," said Coun. Gary Baldwin.

He said he knows of one business owner who has said they may close, based on council's decision, and a homeowner who expects the city to buy her house.

Baldwin said he supported the concept, but that he would like to her from citizens — and that the forthcoming city council meeting shouldn't be the only public consultation.

Coun. Lesley Parnell said there was no costs in the plan — for example, councillors don't know, from the city staff report, how many modular units could potentially be purchased, or at what price.

"We have these questions as well," said acting chief administrative officer Richard Freymond.

He said staff will work out the details — but first he needs to know whether council is supportive of the concept.

Parnell asked other questions that city staff couldn't answer yet — such as what will be expected of security guards, if people are allowed inside while intoxicated.

"I don't see this as a safe community" for either homeless people or their neighbours on Wolfe Street, Parnell said.

But Bierk said the plan wasn't slapped together quickly.

"This plan is very thorough — we’re offering an immense amount of services ... To people in the neighbourhood, this will make things better. I promise you that."

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