Take a tour of one of the tiny cabins a Hamilton group wants to use to shelter the homeless
Small shelters offer 'autonomy and dignity,' says Tom Cooper
A bed, microwave and a mini-fridge — you might be surprised by how much you can fit into eight by 10 feet.
Walking through the door of a tiny cabin set up outside Christ's Church Cathedral in downtown Hamilton Friday, all of its amenities were on display at a glance.
But what wasn't as immediately obvious was what else the building offers.
"We want people to have the autonomy and dignity to be able to have their own space," said Tom Cooper, one of the leaders of the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS).
"It's very much trying to get people into warmth — into a home, almost, of their own — as a short term measure to prevent absolute homelessness."
A big part of that autonomy is the fact that the door to the shelter comes with a lock, and only the person living there will have a key.
There won't be bed checks or a curfew. Couples and pets would be permitted, said Cooper, who is also director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
HATS is hoping to start with 10 of the tiny cabins before building up to 20 within the first year.
They'll each cost between $5,000 and $6,000 to building, said Cooper.
The organization offered the public a chance to tour the first of its small structures on Friday and was met with a line of curious visitors throughout the morning.
Cooper said there may be some misconceptions about the project, so it was important to invite people to come and take a look.
Looking for a location
Sue VanEgdom, a volunteer with HATS, said the insulated buildings will be heated with electricity.
They'd be set up at a site with washroom facilities and potentially a kitchen. A manager would oversee the property and help provide employment, mental health and other supports, she said.
The major barrier to construction right now is finding the right location, according to Cooper.
HATS had set its sights on the former Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School site downtown, but a flood in February means it will be torn down sooner than expected.
Cooper said they're in conversation with the city, but are also putting a call out to faith groups, businesses and land owners who might know of a place that could work.
The checklist for the site includes access to electricity and WiFi if possible. The ideal location also wouldn't be too close to neighbourhoods, while balancing the needs of those staying in the cabins, said Cooper.
HATS recently surveyed 36 people who are currently living unsheltered in Hamilton, or have in the past.
That research showed 97 per cent were interested in a tiny cabin if one was available, and the same percentage were open to contributing some of their social assistance shelter allowance toward the operation.
But some local groups have raised concerns about the level of consultation that's happening.
Grassroots group wants houseless to lead discussion
The Hamilton Encampment Support Network (HESN) said while the plan may be well intentioned, tiny homes are not a solution to the housing crisis.
HESN said other encampments across the city will continue to be torn down, even as the cabins get built.
In fact, Hamilton city council voted just this week to speed up encampment evictions and committing $416,673.73 to hire four bylaw officers to remove tents from parks "within 12 to 72 hours" of the first complaint to city staff, seven days a week.
"How will all of the non-profits involved in HATS continue to advocate against encampment evictions?" HESN asked in a post on social media.
The group also said no one experiencing homelessness is on the project's planning committee.
"Houseless people need to be leading projects that are about them that are being brought to council."
Cooper acknowledged the concerns and said no one wants the tiny cabins to become permanent.
"We need housing. We need supportive housing that's accessible and safe," he explained, adding the small shelters are meant as a short-term solution.
Tiny cabins in other cities, such as Seattle, have been shown to help stabilize those living there so they can go on to move into more permanent housing, HATS said.
"We have to try it, I think," said Cooper. "We haven't been successful as a society in dealing with the homelessness crisis as it's standing."
with files from Saira Peesker