Update on the Jim Durrell Physical Distancing Centre

Over the past years the demand for emergency shelter in Ottawa has grown. Shelter providers are often at full capacity with an ongoing need to use overflow services.

On March 25, 2020, as part of the City’s emergency response to COVID-19 and the new and emerging health and safety requirements resulting from the pandemic, a physical distancing task force was created. The task force, comprised of Housing Services and Community Shelter staff, met to explore options and develop a plan to address the overcrowding within the community shelter system for single men 18 years or older. Under the traditional physical shelter set-up,  it was deemed necessary to find an alternate temporary site to allow for shelter users to physically distance.

A wide range of alternate sites to accommodate the facility requirements were explored including Community Resource Centres, City Recreational Facilities, churches, and private facilities. After an extensive search, site visits, and consultation with community partners, the task force concluded that Jim Durrell Recreation Centre, located at 1265 Walkley Road, met the necessary facility requirements and capacity needs to support physical distancing.

On May 2, 2020, Housing Services staff opened the City-owned facility (Jim Durrell Arena, 1265 Walkley Road) to operate as a temporary physical distancing centre and rapidly mobilized to set up 142 beds to begin the transfer of current shelter system users.

Current State
Since the opening of Jim Durrell, the site has supported up to 80 individuals. The facility is currently providing temporary accommodation to 39 individuals.

The initial assessment of need for the Jim Durrell Physical Distancing Centre was estimated at 100-150 shelter users, however, capacity has fluctuated between 40 to 45 shelter users. The site is currently underutilized and could be used more efficiently as a recreational facility and support Phase 2 of the City’s recovery plan to reopen and augment services such as recreation.

Transition of Physical Distancing Site
Since the emergency shelter responses to COVID-19 has been implemented, a decrease in the overall bed use has been experienced across the system. Despite this reduction, Community shelters continue to have limited beds to respond to the recommended physical distancing guidelines. As a result, Housing Services will move the Jim Durrell Physical Distancing Centre and its users to the Dempsey Community Centre. The Centre has capacity for up to 50 men.

The Dempsey Community Centre was chosen as it best responds to operational needs for use as a physical distancing centre. Additionally, the community centre’s proximity to Jim Durrell allows for easier transition for clients and services already being provided.

Plans are currently underway to transition the men staying at Jim Durrell within the first week of September. The Dempsey Community Centre operations and services will be the same as the Jim Durrell Physical Distancing Centre. The site will support physical distancing, providing placements for single men, shelter users aged 18 years and older, with low to moderate acuity (who require little to no supports). The Centre will offer similar amenities such as dining space, bathrooms, showers, common sleeping areas, and include access to computers, Wi-Fi and televisions, meals and case management services to support people to transition to permanent housing.

Next Steps
The use of community recreational facilities for this purpose is a short term, temporary solution in response to COVID-19, to reduce the pressures on the shelter system, including the risk to people experiencing homelessness of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Housing Services and community partners continue to explore other medium and long-term solutions to create extra capacity within the singles emergency shelter system.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns or comments aout this decision please email JeanCloutierOtt@Ottawa.ca or call my office at 613-580-2488.