Residents voice concerns about the region's outdoor shelter plans in Waterloo

The neighbours shared their concerns at a community education meeting held on Thursday night.

The region plans to open the shelter mid-to-late March at 1001 Erbs Rd. in Waterloo

snow covered area with nothing but shrubs and a small green sign that has the number 1001
The sanctioned outdoor homeless encampment will be located at 1001 Erbs Rd. in Waterloo. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

People living in the area of the sanctioned outdoor homeless encampment are voicing their concerns.

The region plans to open the shelter mid-to-late March at 1001 Erbs Rd. in Waterloo.

That piece of land is exactly adjacent to the roughly 4-acre property and home of Chris Field and his partner Denise Sprentz.

Their family barn is directly shouldering the area where the encampment will be built.

"The concern is that it will burn down," Field said. "It's 175 years old, it's full of antique Mennonite artifacts. It's like a tinder box. Is that going to be the collateral damage? That someone sneaks into my barn to light up their pipe and they drop it — it's full of hay."

green barn surrounded by snow
This 175 year old barn, owned by residents Chris Field and Denise Sprentz, is directly shouldering the sanctioned encampment area. The couple worries that their barn will become collateral damage. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

He said there's also concerns about littering in the area.

"Grocery carts full of garbage bags and stuffed with stolen copper and stuff like that on the side of Erbs Road is not going to fly. That's going to make St. Agatha people go crazy."

He said they only moved to the area about three months ago, hoping to get away from the bustle of the city, before anyone knew about the region's plans to build a sanctioned encampment next door.

"We support it 100 per cent. We support initiatives that help people out. Honestly having the huts over there doesn't affect us because we have a beautiful site this way and we have bushes and stuff. But it's all the inevitables."

Sprentz said she worries about a lack of accessibility to essentials like transportation and groceries in the area.

"I feel sorry for them coming on to the property. This is country living."

smiling couple
Chris Field and Denise Sprentz live right next to the sanctioned encampment area at 100 Erbs Rd. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

She said coming to the community education meeting on Thursday has helped her feel better about the project.

"I'm pretty happy that we came and listened because it can work."

Other neighbours at the meeting said they were worried for the safety of the people who will be living at 1001 Erbs Rd. because there are no sidewalks in the area.

Residents said it can get very dark at night with extremely limited visibility for drivers.

Region promises to connect with neighbours

Peter Sweeney is the commissioner of community services for the Region of Waterloo.

He said staff will be addressing the concerns immediate neighbours were voicing.

"I appreciate that there may be some people in this community who would have preferred a different level of consultation and input into the actual location," he said.

"But under the circumstances, we are dealing with a crisis. So the route that we chose — and I believe we did that transparently, was to make a decision to pick a location in consultation with partners and regional government that we could move as fast as possible on."

He said there will be more community education meetings coming up in the future.

Peter Sweeney, the commissioner of community services for the Region of Waterloo, hosted a community education meeting for concerned residents on Thursday night. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

The opening day for the sanctioned outdoor homeless encampment at 1001 Erbs Rd. in Waterloo was recently pushed back by more than a month, to the end of March.

Sweeney said it is an interim solution meant to last about two years from the opening day.

There were 1,085 people without a home in the region as of September of 2021. Encampments have been forming across the region since then, including one at 100 Victoria St. in Kitchener and another on Roos Island in Victoria Park, which was formed in protest with a list of demands.

The anticipated sanctioned encampment, which will be staffed around the clock, has taken lessons from A Better Tent City, a similar encampment of 42 tiny homes on Waterloo Region District School Board land near Highway 8. The encampment on Erbs Road will accommodate 50 people in tiny homes of about 10 square meters in size.

Each tiny home will have basic amenities, from heating to electricity, and there will be a communal hub among them with additional amenities like toilets, showers, and laundry facilities. 

The region has said that services for things like addictions and mental health will be available to residents too.


Aastha Shetty

CBC journalist

Aastha Shetty can be reached via email or by tweeting her at @aastha_shetty