A Better Tent City


New Report Alert: “A Place to Find Community”: Findings from the A Better Tent City Survey is a report resulting from a partnership between ABTC and Wilfrid Laurier University. The first part of the title is a quote from an ABTC resident who participated in our survey. The purpose of this research was to better understand the experiences of people staying at ABTC. Survey questions covered the following areas: safety and belonging, paid and unpaid jobs on site, food, health and well-being, overnight guests, staff, future housing prospects, and demographics

ABTC Report Final June 2024 (1)

The community is rallying around a much needed demonstration project!
It has been recognized as Canada’s Top 100 Recovery Projects by the Future of Good in 2020. Currently, June of 2021, ABTC is preparing to settle in its new location! 

A Better Tent City community is currently at the temporary location at a City of Kitchener’s property, while the next move, hopefully a more permanent one, is being supported by many organizations, groups, businesses and individuals. We wish to invite you to participate in the fundraiser that opened October 24th: Reasons to Support A Better Tent City! 

Media Advisory regarding the current temporary move of ABTC, October 26th.

A Better Tent City

A better tent city

Video made by Ken Galloway “A Better Tent City” ends with these words:

“We are people who support our homeless brothers and sisters, while collectively tackling homelessness in practical ways. Help us evolve into an organization that drives social entrepreneurship, education, healing and change.”

DONATE – Cash donations are urgently requested to support the move to the new location (to be announced once confirmed), secure indoor living quarters and the costs of wiring and heating the outdoor cabins. Also, operational costs like electricity and garbage disposal are an ongoing concern. Send a cheque to the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region (for ABTC) or send an e-transfer to sdcwr@waterlooregion.org.


According to the Working Centre, at present there are 150 people documented in Kitchener only who remain unsheltered. Cambridge knows of more than 100 unsheltered. Kitchener Affordable Strategy Housing Needs Assessment states that 250-750 residents, according to different sources would need permanent housing in the city alone. Outreach workers, peer-connectors 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.

large wooden cabin wooden cabin

This settlement is ‘A Better Tent City’ because:

Full Circle Foods logoTA Appliances logo and wordmark

  • there is a willing landlord
  • there are currently 24 insulated cabins
  • there are garbage and recycling bins
  • there are kitchen facilities and a collective cooking program
  • the community is being set up according to CDC guidelines
  • the there is access to washrooms and an indoor warming space
  • there are two shower and laundry units constructed in a trailer, and laundry was 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 the mobile community health van
  • this will be small and the numbers managed – 30+ people are there now and eventually this will grow to 42 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, has secured $75,000 from the COVID Emergency Community Support funding through KW Community Foundation and can issue tax receipts for donations toward items that directly support the previously unsheltered people who now call this location home

LIVING REPORT March 2021 – One Year After 

In memory of Ron Doyle, the willing landlord at Lot42 who passed away on March 15th 2021.

ABTC Living Report

A year ago, A Better Tent City was established in response to the crisis of homelessness and poverty striking Waterloo Region and the City of Kitchener concurrently with the COVID lockdown. It started with a goal to support 42 (as in Lot42) unsheltered people to have a safe and temporary home during the pandemic but it has grown into so much more since March 2020. Social Development Centre Waterloo Region joined since the day one as a philanthropic partner receiving and disbursing community donations for the needs of the ABTC settlement. 

To watch the recorded sessions of the living report, visit our YouTube Channel

Philosophy of Compassion – Udanapher (Nadine) Green
Food Security, Supply and Delivery – Laura Hamilton at ABTC
Special Feature: “Remembering Joe”
Lived Experience Expert Knowledge Panel
Summary of Panel Discussion
Round Table Discussion on the Future of ABTC

To review the generative questions about the future of ABTC open this presentation.

COLLECTIVE COOKING – currently on pause during lockdown

Collective cooking

A Better Tent City has partnered with the Community Kitchen Co-op of KW to start collaborative cooking session at LOT42. If you are interested in cooking together with the residents, or to learn more, please email us at abtc@waterlooregion.org.

The ABTC Kitchen also needs donations of items such as table linens, cloth napkins, dish cloths and towel and oven mitts, as well as dish drying mats. Donations can be dropped off at the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region at St John Church downtown Kitchener, Entrance from Duke Street and doorbell on the far right.
Monday – Friday noon to 3pm

See A Better Tent City (ABTC) – Donations (Google Form) for a list of items you can donate. Drop off of donations only by appointment on Thursdays noon to 3pm. 

For more information and to confirm the needs for donations, you can email abtc@waterlooregion.org.

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.


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

Presentations by the University of Waterloo Planning Students

“The site is zoned heavy industrial, and residential uses aren’t allowed. But council voted not to have the city enforce its zoning bylaw on the site for one year. It also approved spending up to $5,000 for an architect or engineer to inspect the site and ensure it meets safety requirements.”
Catherine Thompson, The Record, July 6, 2020

Community-led project proposes tiny homes for Kitchener’s tent city residents

Carmen Groleau, CBC news, April 30 2020

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.

Jeff Willmer with Mike Farwell at 570Radio, April 30

Mike Farwell

I was immediately taken in by the proposal called ‘A Better 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. A Better Tent CityBut 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.

Group Pitches Plan for A Better Tent City

The Record, May 4 2020

Here’s a Plan for the Homeless that Just Might Work!

The Record, May 4, 2020 (link expired)

A Better Tent City