Red Door Family Shelter's New Digs Aim to Correct Old Challenges
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Red Door Family Shelter’s New Digs Aim to Correct Old Challenges

Collaborative design plans for incorporating the Red Door Family Shelter into a luxury condominium building could serve as a model for future developments.

OA Architects

Last year, the future of the Red Door Family Shelter was uncertain. Caught in the middle of a nasty real estate dispute, it looked as though the shelter for women and families fleeing domestic violence would face eviction and be forced to relocate – a process that could take years.

Shortly following the news, the “Save the Red Door Shelter Campaign” launched to keep its crimson doors open at the 875 Queen Street East location. The campaign received a huge backing, with over 50,000 signatures requesting the plans for the new building “incorporate the Red Door Shelter in a concrete and real way.”

Now that Harhay Construction has taken on redevelopment of the shelter, with plans to integrate the community service into a mixed-use luxury condo building, spaces that are communal in the current design (like bedrooms and bathrooms) will be redesigned to be part of independent living quarters.

A major challenge for the old shelter was finding ways to create comfortable, private spaces for families in a building that wasn’t designed for those particular needs.

“Right now the families have to share [rooms], and that’s very difficult on families who are in a period of crisis in their lives,” said Bernnitta Hawkins, executive director of the Red Door Family Shelter.

The new building design will address these design restrictions with enhanced considerations for privacy in addition to lots of windows, light wells, and better-functioning spaces for shelter programs. It’ll also include an outside play area for children. Hawkins will be an integral part of the planning process, and has already developed plans with the shelter’s own advocate architect.

“We’re hoping with the new shelter that we will be providing a stronger foundation for the families in terms of getting their lives back together,” said Hawkins.

“These services are very important to the community and it’s important that we preserve them in the locations that they are,” said Chris Harhay, president of Harhay Developments. “I think the people in Toronto are appreciating it and maturing and realizing the need for these kinds of things so that’s what’s great about it.”

When Harhay toured the shelter last year, he noticed it was very “antiquated” and “worn down.” He said he knew this would be a great opportunity to build something new and give back to the community. So, along with his developers and Hawkins, he visited the Robinson House, another city-run shelter, to find inspiration for a shelter model that worked.

This type of mixed-use building that combines community services and mid-rise condominiums is new for Toronto. There are many buildings just like the Red Door Shelter that will face similar challenges in terms of usage and redevelopment, said Harhay. The Red Door Shelter could be an example and model for future developments.

“We need some new models here outside of just selling a building that has an important social services infrastructure in it for decades and then you find that there’s nowhere for those people to go. I don’t think that’s what our city is about and this is why people have reacted so positively to the red door,” said Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth).

Fletcher has been an advocate for the preservation of the shelter since the news came out about its indefinite future. When Harhay bought the property, part of the agreement with the previous owner was that he couldn’t speak with the tenants. Fletcher was a loud voice on behalf of the shelter and the community, and an advocate for its preservation at its current location alongside condominiums.

“People want to live in neighbourhoods that are diverse,” said Fletcher. “They want to feel like they’re in a city, not a sterilized area.”