Region of Waterloo makes commitment to help find future home for A Better Tent City
After a Committee of the Whole meeting with the Region of Waterloo, councillors unanimously approved a commitment to work with A Better Tent City (ABTC) to find future places to stay.
ABTC is a community of tiny homes, mostly for those who were previously experiencing homelessness.
About 50 residents moved to Battler Road's snow storage site in June, but that’s only temporary until the end of October.
“It is quick to build. It is inexpensive to operate and has demonstrated over the last 16 months that is affectively helping,” said Jeff Willmer, a spokesperson for ABTC.
A Better Tent City volunteers say the model is working to help many people and is more than just a roof over their heads.
“They have access to washrooms, showers and laundries. They have home-cooked meals. They have a connection with volunteers who choose to be there. We even have healthcare,” said Willmer.
For several hours, regional staff and councillors heard from delegates and discussed the region’s homelessness plan.
“Homelessness is not a character flaw, it is a failure of the system,” said Melissa Bowman, a Kitchener delegate.
Kitchener Mayor and Regional Councillor Berry Vrbanovic said some of the passionate delegates could have swayed some councillors to vote for his new motion to help ABTC.
“I was very happy to see my colleagues today step up,” Vrbanovic said.
“We are very much encouraged by the concerned citizens who spoke in support of A Better Tent City, and by the unanimous support of Regional Council acknowledging that ABTC is in fact housing and not a mechanism that perpetuates homelessness,” said Willmer.
But regional staff prefer a "housing first" approach. In a recent report, staff noted 517 new affordable homes are in development this year, up from the 50 they usually have.
“If we’re going to be taking on operations or ownerships of encampments that would divert resources from this work that we’re doing and create a new affordable housing,” said Ryan Pettipiere, director of housing services at the Region of Waterloo.
Some councillors and delegates said affordable housing isn’t for everyone.
“If we don’t tackle the needs of our most vulnerable then we’re not for filling the complete range of responsibilities that we have,” Vrbanovic said.
The new motion will also have staff preparing a new report for the fall.
“What we’re undertaking in September is a regional-wide point in time count. Where we try to enumerate much more in-depth” Pettipiere said.
The fall report will have updated numbers.
In May 2021, 365 people were identified as chronically homeless, up from 271 in November 2020.