Tent City brings fight for affordable housing to region

A local group called Tent City is camping outside of the Region of Waterloo building in Kitchener advocating for more affordable housing.

Director of affordable housing for the region says there is more need than it is able to meet

For several years, the group Tent City has advocated for affordable housing. They are camping outside regional head quarters. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

After being evicted from Victoria Park earlier this week, anti-homelessness advocates have taken their tent city to the grounds of the provincial offences offices in Kitchener.

Tent City, led by Julian Ichim, has been active for several years advocating on a number of social issues, most predominantly the need for more affordable housing.

Many members of the group are struggling to find affordable housing.  One such member is Samantha Stoner, who is taking part in the demonstration for the first time this year.

I have nowhere to go and that's why this is super important for me.-  Samantha Stoner, Tent City member

"For me right now...If I were to go on a housing list it would take two years," Stoner told CBC KW.

"I have nowhere to go right now. I know there's not a lot of us, but it keeps us off the streets."

Samantha Stoner is a member of Tent City. She says if it wasn't for the group, she would have no where to go. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

Keeping up with the need

Deb Schlichter, director of housing for the region, says staff have conversations with Tent City throughout the year to discuss the lack of affordable housing.

Schlichter told CBC KW that the region has a number of  initiatives to help address the issue, such as creating a new supply of affordable housing — that even people on Ontario Works can afford — and creating rent assistance programs.

The difficulty is keeping up with the demand.

"There is more need than we've been able to meet," she said. "As we've been addressing and doing really well to do that, we're just not getting to everybody."

Schlichter adds that she spoke with Tent City members Wednesday night, handing out applications for housing and recommending they go to emergency shelters, though Schlichter said many are not comfortable doing that or are restricted.

Stoner said she filled out an application because she can't go to Mary's Place, an emergency shelter for women in Kitchener, because she has two dogs with her. 

For now, Stoner said tent city member are getting by each day by going to nearby soup kitchens and relying on the kindness of strangers, who stop by with food and water.

However, she fears she won't know what she will do when they are asked to move. 

"I know I have nowhere to go and that's why this is super important for me," she said.

"If it wasn't for this, I don't know what I'd be doing right now."

Many of the members that belong to Tent City are people who can't find affordable housing in the region. They get by every day by accessing local soup kitchens and relying on the kindness of strangers. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)