Corp Comm Connects


Homeless shelter requests electronic sign to boost revenue

The Fred Victor Centre says a sign on its homeless shelter near Moss Park could bring in as much as $150,000 a year. City staff recommends rejecting the proposal.
April 2, 2018
Samantha Beattie

The Fred Victor Centre says an electronic advertising sign on its homeless shelter near Moss Park could bring in $150,000 a year in much-needed revenue while raising awareness about homelessness.

But council should reject the charity’s request -- because it violates Toronto’s sign bylaw and is a safety risk -- recommends city staff in a report prepared for a planning and growth committee meeting Thursday.

“I’m disappointed,” said Mark Aston, executive director of The Fred Victor Centre. “I understand this doesn’t comply with the bylaw, but I think there’s reasons to consider it anyway -- because of the location, the reason behind the sign and in support for our agency.

“I don’t think it will be a detriment to the neighbourhood.”

The Fred Victor Centre and advertising firm Outfront Media is requesting the sign be about three metres wide, 15 metres tall (about the same size as the side of a school bus) and mounted on the shelter’s north facing wall, says the report. One-sixth of the advertising will come from the centre, in support of fundraising and education.

The rest of the advertisements won’t contradict The Fred Victor Centre’s mission to improve the health, income and hosing stability of people experiencing poverty and homelessness -- for example, no alcohol advertisements, Aston said.

The report says electronic signs aren’t allowed where the shelter is located, at 147 Queen St. E. cornering Jarvis St and across from Moss Park. At 42 square metres, the sign’s face is 14 times the permitted size for the area.

At a community consultation session, three residents told staff they’re concerned the proposed sign will not only set a precedent and result in an influx of similar signs, it could also cause distracted driving “specifically as (advertisements) could relate to the presence of vulnerable, socially-challenged individuals who frequent the neighbourhod,” the report says.

Council should not consider the benefits of the sign to the local community when making its decision, the report says. Councillor John Filion, who sits on the committee, agrees.

“Obviously we should be turning the sign down. We have no shortage of good causes,” Filion said. “Should all of them be able to put up great big obnoxious signs totally against city rules and policies? The answer is no.”

For the Fred Victor Centre, there’s no better place, or time, to raise awareness about the shelter’s work, said Aston.

Last Tuesday, 94 per cent of shelter beds were occupied by more than 6,000 people, according to the City of Toronto’s most recent data. The number of people accessing emergency shelters has steadily increased since 2016. This February, 5,855 people stayed overnight on average -- almost 2,000 more people than in the same month in 2016.

The warmer weather hasn’t alleviated the demand, Aston said. On Sunday, the Better Living Centre, run by The Fred Victor Centre, saw 120 of its beds filled.

“There’s been a jump in homeless numbers and it puts pressure on the city, it puts pressure on the sector and it puts pressure on The Fred Victor Centre,” Aston said. “In an environment where funding to the not-for-profit sector has been constrained, additional revenue like that (generated by a sign) can go to core agency operations and is really important.”