Victoria group pilots 'Conestoga Huts' as temporary shelter option for unhoused communities
The huts will keep unhoused people dry and their possessions safe, says group volunteer
A grassroots group in Victoria, B.C., has built what they say could be a temporary, cost-efficient shelter solution to mitigate the city's homelessness crisis.
This week, the Community Alliance for Sheltering Alternatives (CASA) finished constructing their pilot Conestoga Hut, which they have invited the public to see in the Shelbourne Street Church parking lot.
"[The huts] are about 60 square feet, they're safe, they're very heat efficient," said Krista Loughton, a filmmaker with the Alliance, who's spent hundreds of hours connecting with unhoused communities for her work.
The hut stands on concrete blocks with a front and back wall, a small porch, and an insulated door with a deadbolt lock. Layers of agricultural fencing, foam, heat-retentive material and a tarp curve over the middle of the structure to create the side walls and roof.
"They're designed after a conestoga wagon that trekked [settlers and their belongings] across the prairies," Loughton said, adding she'd discovered over 200 huts were being used in Eugene, Oregon, as a form of micro-housing for vulnerable communities.
She said once all the pieces were built, they "fit together like Lego" in about 2.5 hours.
The hut cost around $3,500 in donations to build. According to Loughton, the CASA wanted to build it to "show proof of concept and to get the community on [their] side."
She said they also hope to partner with non-profits, the city and B.C. Housing to bring more huts to the city.
CASA formed over the last year to help find ways to shelter the city's unhoused until more stable housing options become available.
A grassroots way
Rob Reid, a business owner with a retail store in downtown Victoria, said the idea for the project came from a homeless person who'd taken shelter just outside his store.
After Reid and his staff formed a relationship with the person, Reid contacted Loughton to brainstorm ways they could help, especially during harsh coastal weather conditions.
Late last year, the newly-formed CASA created a GoFundMe page to raise money to build the hut.
Reid said the project is an example of how grassroots initiatives can help come up with shelter solutions to homelessness and, in this case, find an opportunity to help someone sleeping on a storefront while rejuvenating the downtown area.
A safe place for belongings
Loughton said the huts are a necessary "step up from a tent" in that they provide the unhoused a safe place to store their items.
She said the current city bylaw that requires unhoused people to pack up their tents from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day "makes it impossible for people to get anything done during the day."
"All they're doing is protecting their belongings, which matter so much [to them]. They need a door they can lock, where they feel safe and secure."
Janine Theobald, director of collaborative engagement for the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, said the coalition is willing to support people in the community by bringing these huts and other temporary shelter solutions to the city.
"It seems like a really viable option for people to safely shelter, [and] to know that they can leave, lock the door, and go do the other things they need to do," said Theobald.
Reid said the short-term plan is to seek a temporary bylaw exemption from the city so someone can use the pilot hut, and find property owners who may be willing to offer up space in their parking lots to house future huts.
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Become a CBC Account Holder
Join the conversation Create account
Already have an account?