A Better Tent City

The community is rallying around a much needed pilot initiative!

According to the Working Centre, at present there are 150 people documented in Kitchener-Waterloo who remain unsheltered. Outreach workers and unsheltered themselves testify of higher numbers. Living rough is dangerous at the best of times, and even more so during a pandemic.  Now, someone has stepped up to offer a safe place for people to tent during the pandemic.   This encampment is not at this time sanctioned by any level of municipal government; however, it seems that efforts to establish ‘a better tent city’ will not be blocked, because of the recognition that something must be done now to protect some of the most vulnerable among us. 

“While the Region of Waterloo struggles to figure out how it wants to combat homelessness Lot 42 has started its next phase of development. They have already built two adorable tiny houses. All that is needed now is to ensure that zoning can happen for these homes to take up residence beyond their current address if that becomes a need or a desire. But until then these secure and dignified quarters are proof that this region can do better than just a shelter system. Truth is we need a wide scope of transitional housing and we also need many more accessible affordable and integrated housing options than what currently exists. As they say there is no place like a tiny home.” Heather Majaury, May 19

large wooden cabin

wooden cabin

 

 

 

 

 

 

This settlement is “A Better Tent City” because:

  • there is a willing landlord
  • there are garbage and recycling bins
  • there are kitchen facilities
  • the encampment is being set up according to CDC guidelines.
  • the space has access to washrooms and an indoor warming space  
  • two shower units constructed in a trailer
  • laundry facility is being set up, thanks to TA Appliances & Barbecues
  • this is a safe and caring place
  • the good people at Sanguen have added this location to their ‘route’ for their mobile community health van 
  • this will be small and the numbers managed – 15 people are there now and eventually this will grow to 30 and be capped there (the timing of this expansion is evolving as capacity to provide support grows)
  • this is a community of people built on respect, respect for each other, for the buildings and property and for the neighbouring properties 
  • the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region is a charitable partner in this endeavor and can issue tax receipts for donations toward items that directly support the previously unsheltered people who now call this location home

Click here for a list of food and other consumable items you can donate.
Wednesday and Friday 2pm-4pm you can drop off donations at Duke St door
of St John the Evangelist Anglican Church (23 Water St, Kitchener).

For more information in general, you can email abtc@waterlooregion.org or to donate via cheque or cash. 

Cash donations are urgently requested to support shower and laundry facilities, secure locker spaces and other direct supports for the residents.

To make an online donation you can send an e-transfer to sdcwr@waterlooregion.org. Please indicate this is for “ABTC” and kindly include your name and address in the comments section to receive a charitable tax receipt.

Thank you in advance for any support you can offer.  

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ABTC

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about ‘A Better Tent City’:

Presentations by the University of Waterloo Planning Students
LiVinci Presentation
CCCGroup Presentation

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Community-led project proposes tiny homes for Kitchener’s tent city residents
Carmen Groleau, CBC news, April 30 2020

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Jeff Willmer on CBC Morning Edition April 30, 2020

The initiative started really with the inspiration of Ron Doyle who owns the property at Lot42­­­­ on Ardelt. And Ron has a passion to do more to help the homeless and unsheltered in our community and that is when he came to me. Since then we have been working together and the idea of a better tent city came to the fore.

The idea was in the works, and we made a great progress on it together with the planning students in Waterloo who have done some terrific work on it. The COVID crisis really kicked things into high gear and put an emergency on it even more than it was a case already. Ron made a property on Ardelt available to set up tents so there is about 15 people tenting there now, working well as a community and this is sort of a very basic aspect of a better tent city. It’s one key element is to have a willing property owner. Most tents cities take shape where people are trespassing and they have to move on.

We’ve been in contact with the agencies that provide support to the homeless, the Inner-City Health Alliance in downtown Kitchener and with some of our colleagues in Cambridge as well. These are the folks that are aware of those sleeping rough and that would not be able to use the shelter system and the alternatives that have been brought forward during the COVID crisis. All those people who aren’t able to make use of the shelter system, kind of on their own, who would typically resort to a tent city as their community.

We were first looking for a property ideally located closer to the downtown at a walking distance to the supports that homeless and unsheltered people need such as St John Kitchen with the noon hour meal program and Ray of Hope with the evening meal program. We have some in mind, but they are still preliminary. We are still working on those. They are a work in progress. The Ardelt place has emerged the immediate option because we have a willing land owner, office space, a big building that is an amazing event space but as you can imagine, the events have been cancelled and the space is available as a warming space for people.

The University of Waterloo planning students have done some terrific work to help show what this could look like when it takes shape. What it can look like is a community of 15 or 20 cabins, weather those look like a garden shed or a wooden cabin, or maybe they are shipping containers modified, or maybe they are Conestoga Huts. They are basically a one room cabin where a person has a safe and secure place to sleep and store their belongings. In addition to that, the community would have a common facility for washrooms, showers, laundry. If it gets more mature it can have a common facility for kitchen and ultimately, we can develop some kid of a social enterprise where people have a purpose and a sense of self worth and can learn different job skills.

We do not have a definite timeline [for it to be set up]. Certainly, our recent alliance with the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region has brought some much-needed awareness to the challenge right now. They have a campaign that is enabling people to make donations and get donation receipt for that. So that has been a big help. It’s a combination of two things. I think, one is funding and the other is making sure that we have the right approvals from the city and the region.

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Jeff Willmer with Mike Farwell at 570Radio, April 30 

Mike Farwell

I was immediately taken in by the proposal called “A Getter Tent City.” It’s being put on the Internet by a grassroots organization called Civic Hub Waterloo Region, and Jeff Wilmer […]joins us for a chat. Jeff, good morning. How are you?

Jeff Willmer

I’m well, thanks. How about yourself?

Mike Farwell

Well, before we get into talking about this, what the heck retirement doesn’t take or what? You sound like my father, he failed it twice, two. And finally, on the third time, he got it right. But […]the work that you’re doing, this Better Tent City idea really did spark my interest.

Jeff Willmer

Actually, I first became aware of the Civic Hub pretty recently. This [A Better Tent City] has been an initiative that I’ve been working on, with Ron Doyle, for a few months, and just very recently, we connected with the Social Development Center Waterloo Region and through them to the Civic Hub. Those two groups have been very helpful in getting the word out.

Mike Farwell

I should have known this would have Ron’s fingerprints on it somewhere. Ron’s and yours for that matter. Okay, let’s talk about this, this idea of ‘A Better Tent City’ Jeff, what does this look like?

Jeff Willmer

Alright, so the root of the problem really is that we have people in our community, as we have in communities all across Canada, who are homeless and unsheltered. These are folks who actually don’t find themselves able to make use of the shelter system that we have, so they’re living right there on the streets, or [tent communities] they’ve built themselves. Our concept was to try to find an affordable solution for those folks. The basic elements of a better tent city: it’s a willing host, a landlord, so instead of trespassing in the woods, wherever on city land or private land, we have a landowner that’s willing to allow people to make use of their property; and then better than tents,  we would have cabins for people. So basically one room shelter, a safe place to sleep, and store your belongings. At its most basic, it’s that willing landlord and a secure shelter for each person. But we also want to provide some basic services, toilets, for example, showers and laundry. Ultimately, even though social enterprise where people could start a business and improve their sense of self-worth and contribution to the community.

Mike Farwell

At this point, the idea is not yet sanctioned by municipal governments, regional or whatever city this would be established in, and how do you overcome that hurdle?

Jeff Willmer

Well, there’s two ways. One is we wanted to do it and show that it can be done. And that’s an initiative that we’re working towards, even if we can do this at a modest scale of, you know, 15 or so people in a dozen or so cabins and show that it works, and that they inspire not only the governments in this region, but all across the country to replicate this model.

Mike Farwell

How do you fund it, and then further, even perhaps programming, if you’re talking about the opportunity is social enterprise, for example?

Jeff Willmer

So the funding depends on two things. One is a landlord that’s willing to make their land available. And I think that’s the biggest opportunity that most cities have is that there’s future development lands available, they tend to be vacant, and we know that they’re not going to be used for development for at least a couple of years. And they’re available for short term for a community of portable, temporary shelters. The other aspect of it is community fundraising. And we’re encouraged by early indications of support from people in this community. And there’s a link on civichubwr.org, where people can go and make donations.

Mike Farwell

So in the event that you end up on a parcel of land, that you’ve got that willing landlord that you’ve talked about, but it is short term, and the proposal then comes along, some years later for development on that land, it’s conceivable then that this, this better tent city would have to relocate at that point?

Jeff Willmer

If it’s on private land, there’s no question that it would have to relocate after two or three years. If it’s on public land, however, then there is the idea of a permanent sanctioned, better tent cities. And there are some examples of this San Jose, California is probably the best example. I think the thing to keep in mind is that this is a band aid solution. It’s a stop gap. The real solution here is housing for everybody. And the San Jose example is transitional to help people, homeless people stabilize their lives, and then be transitioned into apartment.

Mike Farwell

One of the challenges we face when we talk about the homeless population in our community, Jeff, I’ve heard in the past is, is that it’s difficult at times to actually track it and then we try to define it as chronic homelessness or, or what, but how do you then identify the people who might be inclined to populate this better tent city and, and is it possible to even speak to them or survey them to find out if this is something that they would be interested in?

Jeff Willmer

It’s one of the one of the beauties of being in a midsize community like Waterloo Region, and as everybody knows somebody and everybody knows somebody else who knows something, and so it’s actually fairly easy to make connections with the unsheltered in our community. There’s agencies doing terrific work, House of friendship, the Working Centre, Ray of Hope, and so on, and they know who these folks are and where they are. Ron and I’ve been able to make connections with them as well. Yes, we know them by name. We’ve got emails for folks. There are people who found that life dealt them a tough hand and it’s difficult to get stabilized. And if people just had a safe place to sleep sort of things, get a good night’s sleep that’s a beginning working towards stability.

Mike Farwell

One of the other challenges I’m sure that would be faced Jeff, is that of nimbyism. What’s the sales pitch to the neighborhood where this tent city ends up being established?

Jeff Willmer

Yeah, well, that’s a challenge for sure and we collaborated with the planning students from University of Waterloo on this, and they’ve done some great work. And that too was on the Civic Hub website. And that’s one of the challenges that they identified. So, for sure, this would take some courage on the part of the elected officials to approve something like this. There’s no question that this is for the greater good for the community. And I think a lot of people will support that. There are studies that show for every dollar that’s invested in shelter and affordable housing, $2 of societal costs are avoided. Things like emergency room, police, paramedics, street workers, and so on. There’s a good business case for it and it may be some consolation to the NBA, folks that the idea would be that this is temporary and it’s for two or three years, then the land is redeveloped and the community would move to some other place where it is future development land, which is always sort of a moving target.

Mike Farwell

Are we at this point ready to go in this community? Are we basically turnkey if we can get the political support?

Jeff Willmer

Almost, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but COVID-19 crisis has kick things into gear even before we were ready. So there is a community of about 15 people that are tenting now at Ron Doyle’s property at 41 Ardelt Place. It was not the plan originally, but the intent really was to build cabins with people. But obviously, the COVID-19 crisis has thrown things into a bit of turmoil and a quick solution was needed. So the event space at Lot 42 was available. There aren’t events happening there as you can imagine and so people are tenting. They’ve got toilets available to them. They’ve got a warming space, and they’re working well as a small community.

Mike Farwell

It is a fascinating concept will we be? Will we be hearing more about it in our post pandemic world? Should we expect to see presentations at various municipal councils, etc.?

Jeff Willmer

Yes, you’ll be hearing more about it. I’m not so sure about whether you will see it at municipal councils as part of the intent here is to do this community initiative. If we can do it on private property with community resources, we wouldn’t necessarily need funding or support from the municipalities to building some shelter small enough that they don’t need building permits. The showers and washrooms are thousands laundry facilities are in a trailer on wheels and doesn’t need a build permit. So the idea here is kind of to take the pressure off the municipalities in many ways.

Mike Farwell

I find it incredibly fascinating. I wish you luck moving forward. And thanks for making the time for us today. Jeff,

Jeff Willmer

Thanks very much. I appreciate your interest.

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Group Pitches Plan for A Better Tent City, the Record, May 4 2020
Here’s a Plan for the Homeless that Just Might Work!, May 4, 2020