City hall is looking to change the language around homeless shelters by doing away with the word “shelter” altogether.
The move is part of a wider plan launched last April to rethink the way emergency shelters operate. Part of that plan looks to change public attitudes, or NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard), around adding shelters to communities.
Those behind New Hope Leslieville, a 60 bed men’s shelter that opened last month, intentionally left out the word “shelter” when renaming the new facility. It was created to replace the 124 bed Hope Shelter, which operated for 40 years at the intersection of McCaul and College streets before closing in 2015.
“To me, ‘shelter’ has always represented some sort of a stigma,” says homeless advocate Alex Zsager.
Zsager used Toronto’s shelter system for about a year when the company he was working for downsized and he was laid off.
He says renaming shelters would go a long way to give users hope and help dispel NIMBYism in the community.
“75 per cent (of shelter users) are there because they lost their job, or illness, or accident, or trauma,” Zsager said. “It’s not by choice, so they just need the opportunity to get away.”
Councillor Paula Fletcher says while the term doesn’t affect her negatively, recent city surveys showed the opposite.
A survey done in fall 2017 found 93 per cent of respondents felt “shelter” was either a negative or neutral term. Many recommended a new moniker altogether.
“We found that yes, a lot of people said, ‘Ooh shelter. That makes me afraid’,” Fletcher said. “So, it’s time to look at that.”
The city is now testing out nine names in a new survey, including ‘Connect’, ‘Link’, ‘Junction Services’, ‘First Step Housing and Services’ or ‘Navigation Centre’.
Toronto’s emergency shelter system is almost always near or at capacity. Last Wednesday, it held about 5,800 people, including almost 1,600 in motel beds.
City council approved a motion last week to introduce 1,000 shelter beds over the next three years.
Click here to take the survey and weigh in on alternative terms for “shelter”.