Kitchener-Waterloo

Meet some of the people living in Kitchener's tiny homes community

A community-led project has recently set up 12 tiny homes on the LOT42 property in Kitchener. Regional council will be discussing a report looking at the future of the emergency shelter system on Wednesday.

Roughly 40 people live on LOT42 property in tiny homes or inside building

Diana Myers is one of the dozens of people staying at Kitchener's LOT42, where a tiny homes community has been set up. She stands in front of her tiny home, which she shares with her boyfriend. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Diana Myers says it feels "incredible" to have her own tiny home and to live among a community that supports one another.

She remembers the stress of not knowing where to go or where she would sleep after she lost her home earlier this year. 

"We were sleeping at the bus terminal and it was really hard to go places because you couldn't use the bathrooms or anything," Myers told CBC News Sunday. 

Myers is among the 40 people living in A Better Tent City, a tiny homes community, on the property where LOT42 resides. 

As many as 12 tiny homes have been set up at Kitchener's LOT42 area. There are roughly 40 people staying at LOT42, most living in tents in parts of the building and some in tiny homes. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

She and her boyfriend arrived two months ago with the help of Nadine Green, who saw them while she was handing out food and sandwiches at the terminal.

"They were not used to being out on the streets and I could see it in their eyes," Green said. A week later, she tracked them down and invited them to stay at LOT42.

Green, who also lives on the LOT42 property, said she lost her business on Duke Street in downtown Kitchener after she had turned her corner store into a place for some of the city's homeless to stay.

She later received an eviction notice from her landlord. Green now helps run the small community, which has been a "wonderful" experience for her.

"It's worth losing my store, it's worth everything."

Nadine Green also lives in the tiny homes community on LOT42. She was asked by Jeff Willmer and Ron Doyle to help run the space. (Carmen Groleau/ CBC)

Region to look at future of emergency shelter system

Green and Jeff Willmer, one of the men behind the A Better Tent City project, say they hope the region sees the tiny homes community as a possible solution to end homelessness in the region.

"A sanctioned tent city is better able to receive supports from the community and other communities have done that. San Jose, Calif., is the one we keep talking about as a best practice," Willmer said.

Regional councillors are set to discuss an emergency shelter transition plan on Wednesday, which includes the development of an pragmatic and a longer-term vision plan.

"The recovery plan will change how shelter services are provided in the region as informed by the learning of the pandemic response," a report from regional staff said, adding the plan will focus on the existing supportive and affordable housing solutions.

The report said as the emergency overflow shelter at the A.R. Kaufman YMCA is set to close at the end of June, plans are in the works to expand capacity at the Radison Hotel — which currently houses the Charles Street Men's Shelter — and the Cambridge Shelter.

Staff will also look at possibly adding more sites to accommodate the increase demand in emergency shelter for men.

Jeff Willmer is retired and had been working on the idea to create a tiny homes community for the homeless long before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Long-term, the report said the region will focus on "re-envisioning" the supply and delivery of shelter services "through the lens of the pandemic" and will be led by the region's existing pandemic housing and homeless working group. 

Green said the region could be doing more for homelessness and should focus on building more affordable and supportive housing.

Willmer also agrees that affordable and supportive housing should to be front and centre.

"The issue of homelessness and unsheltered people was a challenge before COVID-19 and will still be a challenge in the future," he said. "The solution for homelessness is housing."

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