A Kingston housing and homelessness advocate is suggesting the city replace tent cities with tiny homes.
Chrystal Wilson, who works to help those experiencing homelessness or precarious living situations in the city brought the concept to council Tuesday night.
“Everybody we speak with and have conversations with would like to live in a stable house of some kind,” Wilson said in an interview Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Wilson spoke to council via video conference from a model tiny home, based at that time in Skeleton Park. She says such a home could be duplicated several times to create tiny home clusters, communities that would keep people off the streets and under a roof.
“We’re really challenged with breaking some barriers and some traumas that have happened in the past, and one of them for certain is institutionalization. There’s a big fear or being locked in and a big fear of being kicked out,” she said Wednesday.
Wilson’s idea is modelled off of A Better Tent City project, based in Kitchener and is meant to assist those who have trouble living congregate shelter settings get more permanent housing.
Jeff Willmer, who helps run the project in Kitchener, also spoke to Kingston’s council Tuesday to champion the idea.
“The people who run shelters realized its not a one size fits all challenge and we had come up with a new variation to helping people,” Willmer said.
He said his city’s program has been running for 16 months now. He described it as a community initiative on private property, with 50 people living in tiny homes on two sites. The city of Kitchener has also provided temporary land for the project.
Willmer says their program has very few staff and that the tiny home communities run smoothly, with only four evictions to date.
“It’s largely a self-managed community. There really aren’t authority figures there…they run their own lives. It has empowered them and given them some hope, some dignity,” he said.
Wilson says so far, she has secured funding, some possible land and building services to make up to 10 tiny homes, but with 400 people currently unhoused in Kingston, she would like to see something more like 60 to 80 in the long run.
She asked the city for land and funding if possible to help get the project going.
Wilson and Willmer’s ideas grabbed the attention of councillors, who asked several questions, including about safety standards, security issues and water and heat issues.
Like in many other cities across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated homelessness issues in Kingston, causing several people to gather in a tent city in Belle Park. After finally being evicted last year, the city invested in the Integrated Care Hub, a building on Montreal Street meant to help vulnerable people can access services they need.
But Wilson is looking for a more permanent solution that will keep people housed. She believes the tiny home communities will do that.
“This is better than chasing people out of parks, this is cheaper than chasing people out of parks,” she said to council Tuesday.
No action was taken on Wilson’s request, which was simply presented as a delegation, at council Tuesday night.
Still, Kingston’s CAO Lanie Hurdle said staff plan to reach out to Wilson to see how they can work with her in the future.