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City unveils winter plan including prefabricated structures to house homeless during cold weather




The head of Toronto’s shelter and housing support division says he’s “very confident” his department has taken steps to avoid a repeat of the “challenges” it faced last winter finding shelter for the homeless during cold weather.

On Friday, the city rolled out its 2018-19 winter plan for the homeless. The plan calls for three new prefabricated structures — there’s an option for a fourth if demand warrants — that can house single adults or couples, as well as pets.

The city’s winter plan for the homeless calls for three new prefabricated structures, much like this one used to house a school at Bayview Glen School, that can house single adults or couples, as well as pets.
The city’s winter plan for the homeless calls for three new prefabricated structures, much like this one used to house a school at Bayview Glen School, that can house single adults or couples, as well as pets.  (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star)

The portable “Sprung” structures, manufactured by a Canadian company will be scattered in the east, west and central sections of the city. The first, to sit on a Green P parking lot behind Lamport Stadium on King St. W. near Dufferin St. will open Dec. 15.

The other two, one on a green field on Fleet St. near Strachan Ave., the other on a parcel of undeveloped property at Lake Shore Blvd. E. and Parliament St., are set to launch Jan. 31.

The openings are staggered because the structures, which have metal skeletons, fabric coverings and thick core insulation, each take about 10 to 12 weeks to erect, the city said.

The King St. and Lake Shore Blvd. structures have a capacity to shelter 100 people each, while the capacity of the one on Fleet is 80 people.

The Lamport site will remain open for 12 months of the year, while the others will stay open based on demand, Paul Raftis, general manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration, told reporters during Friday’s press conference at city hall.

All three, which cost $2.5 million each, have washrooms, as well as shower and laundry facilities.

In addition, the city is opening a temporary 24-hour respite site with up to 200 spots at the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place beginning Nov. 15 that will be phased out at the end of January, as the three prefabricated structures come online.

A rendering of the temporary structures built by Canadian company Sprung Instant Structures Limited that the city purchased for $2.5 million each.
A rendering of the temporary structures built by Canadian company Sprung Instant Structures Limited that the city purchased for $2.5 million each.  (CITY OF TORONTO)

In all, there will be 11 all-day respite centres — eight in regular buildings — that will be run during the winter by various social service agencies, up from one respite centre four years ago.

The changes this year will see about 600 respite spaces in total this winter, up from the previous 455 and the city is budgeting $3 million to operate the winter enhancements, money that includes staffing, food, security, and costs to operate the buildings.

The city will continue to use its Metro Hall facility as a warming centre when an extreme cold weather warning is triggered — when temperatures drop to colder than -15 C or -20 C with wind chill.

Last winter this happened on 31 days.

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The harsh cold caused chaos for the city. Some community centres and the Moss Park Amoury were pressed into service as shelters.

This won’t have to happen this year, the city says.

A March report by the city’s ombudsman that blasted its winter respite services, found staff gave inaccurate information about capacity at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place on at least two occasions.

“It is only reasonable to infer that they (staff) gave out this sort of misinformation in more instances than just the ones we investigated,” Ombudsman Susan Opler wrote in her report.

The report also found staff at Toronto’s intake call centre and the 311 information line had outdated details about the addresses for respite sites and their capacities.

Raftis told reporters Friday that the findings from Opler’s report informed the enhancements the city is making.

Last winter, the city saw an extreme cold weather warning on 31 days. The harsh cold caused chaos for the city, pressing some community centres and the Moss Park Amoury, seen here, into service as shelters.
Last winter, the city saw an extreme cold weather warning on 31 days. The harsh cold caused chaos for the city, pressing some community centres and the Moss Park Amoury, seen here, into service as shelters.  (Rick Madonik)

Aside from adding 102 net new beds to the city’s permanent shelter system by the end of this year (the city has 7,000 beds in 63 city shelters). Raftis told reporters the city has invested in its central intake referral service, with additional staff to respond to calls from the public.

There will be better technology to manage the intake calls and new working space to help boost call centre productivity.

The changes include the creation of a duty officer role that will be responsible for flagging problems that arise and working with central intake to ensure homeless clients coming into the system are transitioned smoothly.

“We improved operational reliability and system oversight of the entire shelter system, to address any unexpected events that may arise,” Raftis said.

He went on to say he’s confident the changes will avoid what happened last winter, “but we can’t predict demand. So it’s possible we will receive many more people in the city looking for shelter services and we will respond to that demand.”

Kira Heineck, the executive lead for Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness (TAEH), said the changes show the city is doing a “very good job” in preparing for winter.

“We know there will be people who will need immediate emergency shelter and assistance, and we need to have a robust system in place. The improvements they have made are significant, and the right ones. I can’t criticize that,” Heineck said.

However, her group is working to reduce and end chronic homelessness, so in a few years “we’d like to be in a place where the shelter plans are about reducing beds and services and not increasing them,” she said.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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