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Ottawa is looking at tent-like structures for asylum seekers. What are sprung structures?

The City of Ottawa is looking to use a tent-like structure to house asylum seekers arriving in the capital, as part of the strategy to deal with an influx of migrants.

Council directed staff to look at the option of a sprung structure or “other semi-permanent facility” to help provide emergency welcoming and additional transitional housing capacity to accommodate “the unprecedented levels of irregular migration in Ottawa,” according to a city memo.  Staff have identified three potential parcels of land to host two sprung structures.

CTV News Ottawa looks at what are sprung structures.

What is a sprung structure?

City of Ottawa staff say a sprung structure is a modular tension fabric building.

“Each sprung structure features aluminum arches that are integrally connected to an all-weather outer architectural membrane,” staff said in a memo this week.

Each temporary facility would have 150 beds each

According to the city, sprung structures can be customized with a number of different accessories, including doors, windows, canopies, vestibules, covered walkway systems, connecting corridors, glazing walls, and graphic elements.

“These semi-permanent structures are not like emergency tents used in disaster response. Interiors and exteriors are customizable,” Clara Freire, general manager of community and social services, said in a memo to council.

“Interiors can be constructed with washrooms, offices, kitchens and sleeping space. The structures are designed to be fully compliant with local building and fire codes.”

The City of Ottawa shows off examples of sprung structures. (City of Ottawa memo)

Sprung structures have been used for several things, including shelters, gyms, mess halls, recreation centres and temporary medical buildings. The Ottawa Hospital set up a similar type of structure in a parking lot at the Civic Campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it remains in operation today.

Freire says sprung structures have been used by over 80 communities in the United States to provide homeless navigation centres, while Toronto has used the structures for four respite centres.

A worker walks past a temporary structure under construction outside the civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital Wednesday, January 6, 2021 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

What are the benefits of a sprung structure?

Staff say there are several benefits to using a sprung structure, including:

  • Ability to facilitate rapid construction
  • Minimal foundation requirements
  • Expandable and relocatable
  • Designed with “optimal heating and cooling efficiency”

The City of Ottawa shared an image of a sprung shelter from Venice, California. This is a bridge home in Venice. (City of Ottawa memo)

Where will the sprung structures go?

The city will not say where the sprung structures will be set up. The city looked at 70 sites at the start of the process.

The memo from Freire says an in-depth assessment of three potential city parcels of land for the structures is underway, “and staff are exploring procurement processes and facility requirements.”

When will the sprung structures be ready?

If the city proceeds with the sprung structures, they won’t be ready for this winter.

Staff say the goal is to open the new structures in 2025. Staff say the sprung structures were prioritized for a housing solution because they can be constructed quickly.

The City of Ottawa says the Harbor of Hope in Oregon is an example of a sprung structure. (City of Ottawa memo)

Concerns about sprung structures

Some councillors raised concerns about the city’s plan to use sprung structures to shelter asylum seekers, moving a motion to take away staff’s authority to look at the options.

The motion from Coun. Wilson Lo, which was defeated at council, said staff would be making a multi-million dollar decision on introducing a new shelter system without council oversight, and staff are looking at using the structures without any public delegations.

“Using sprung structures sets us five steps back,” Lo told council on Ottawa’s plan to address the homelessness crisis. “We’re basically shuffling newcomers within the shelter system into something that looks quite different. It’s still a shelter in a temporary structure.”

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Patricia Boal on Thursday, Lo said while the sprung structures are legitimate structures, they do not help.

“They are quality structures…It’s a shelter in the end, we’re not actually putting them into permanent housing to let them succeed,” Lo said.

Lo says with a 12-18 month timeline to set up a sprung structure, there are other options available.

“I can’t wrap up my head around why we can’t pursue the permanent, proper solution and add to our housing stock at the same time, rather than something that is temporary,” Lo said.

Staff say the city is looking at other options, including permanent housing.

Marty Carr, the councillor for Ward 18 Alta Vista, told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Kristy Cameron Thursday that two community shelters in her ward used to shelter asylum seekers, noting that the attempt to block the shelters is “short-sighted.”

“The idea is to get everybody a permanent home, but the numbers are so huge. We need to put people in place. We need a place for people to arrive. We need a reception centre. We need people to get paperwork. We need to get people registered with the government,” she said.

“If they’re going to school, employment, you know, benefits, whatever the case may be, is this a better alternative than sleeping on the street?”

Other facilities

The City of Ottawa and its partners are looking at other sites for meet demands.

The city and its partners are pursuing the conversion of an office to transitional housing on Queen Street, and the purchase of a former convent on St. Joseph Boulevard, according to Freire.

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