Kitchener's tiny home project to address homelessness an 'inspiration' for other cities
Kitchener's A Better Tent City has become an inspirational blueprint that is now providing a housing solution to tackle homelessness in other cities in Ontario.
The innovative tiny home project started in early 2020, when the former owner of Lot 42, Ron Doyle, turned his property into a small community of tiny homes with the help of fellow ABTC co-founders Nadine Green and Jeff Willmer.
Doyle passed away in March 2021, but the community effort to help Waterloo region's homeless population remains intact.
"The help that's been coming through, I'm being fed every day," said Darren Chalmers, a resident at ABTC during a virtual interview. "It's wonderful."
What was being done Kitchener caught the attention of a community leader from Kingston.
Chrystal Wilson, executive director of Our Liveable Solutions, said she became concerned about a growing homeless encampment in Kingston in the summer of 2020, and decided to visit ABTC in Kitchener.
"It felt like a warm blanket," recalled Wilson, who arrived at ABTC around supper time. "People were happy. They were interacting together. They were happy to have a selection of food available to them. It felt warm and comforting."
Wilson said she felt compelled to replicate the Kitchener model.
Kingston city officials approved her project in November 2021.
Last month, ten sleeping cabins and a common space opened along Kingston's Portsmouth Olympic Harbour.
Wilson noted "seeing Kitchener go through the process, and having Jeff and Nadine supporting us helps strengthen our efforts."
A similar situation has unfolded in Hamilton.
Julia Kollek said she felt compelled to do something last year when she saw someone sleeping under a railway bridge close by her own home.
Not long after, she came across a video explaining Kitchener's A Better Tent City.
"Honestly the K-W model has been such an inspiration," said Kolleck.
Kollek connected with Ted McMeekin, the former MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
"Julia asked for help," said McMeekin. "When I saw the video she sent me I became convinced it was the way to go."
Kollek has helped create the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters– HATS for short.
She said donations have been made, a location is in the works, and a cabin maker has been identified. Kolleck added the plan is to have ten to 20 cabins up in about six weeks.
Tony D'Amato Stortz is currently an advisor at HATS, and was a former site supervisor at ABTC.
D'Amato Stortz said he's seen more than just homes go up, there'salso been a noticeable change among ABTC residents.
"They have dignity in a way that's beautiful and needs to happen for people experiencing homelessness," added D'Amato Stortz.
Those who have helped ABTC since day-one have some simple advice for other municipalities building their own tiny home projects.
"Be persistent because this model really works," said Jeff Willmer. "It really does help people form community."
Willmer noted, officials from Duncan, B.C. also reached out in 2020 and have since emulated Kitchener's ABTC.