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Tiny homes for homeless youth

Two-hundred square feet may sound small, but homeless advocates are hoping it will be big enough to fix Lanark county’s affordable housing problem.

Groups fighting homelessness in Lanark County plan to house youth in tiny homes on private property

A non-profit housing agency and Algonquin College teamed up to create this 200-square-foot tiny home prototype for Perth, Ont., designed to help alleviate homelessness in Lanark County. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC)

Two-hundred square feet may sound small, but advocates for homeless youth are hoping it will be big enough to fix Lanark County's affordable housing problem.

Cornerstone Landing — a non-profit that provides assistance for homeless youth — and Algonquin College have teamed up to build tiny homes to house youth on private property.

The prototype model will be unveiled Wednesday in Perth, Ont. It's the only one so far, but there are plans to build more if bylaws are changed to allow them and enough volunteers sign up to house them on their property.

Lea Maurice owns Capone's Deli and Iron Tattoo in Carleton Place, Ont. She experienced homelessness in her youth, and is excited to see the tiny home project get off the ground. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC )

Social agencies in Lanark County say a lack of affordable housing for young people is a significant problem.

"One thing that breaks my heart every winter is when you get that phone call at nine o'clock at night for a 17-year-old who is sleeping outside, and you have no place to offer them," said the chair of Cornerstone's board, Terrilee Kelford. 

We've slept on streets, in alleys, on park slides, and been scared out of our minds about what's going to happen the next day with no shelter. It's something we don't want our children to have to live through.- Lea Maurice, business owner and fundraiser

Kelford has seen youth living in trailers with no running water, as well as sleeping in parks, under bridges, in cars and in tents. She said youth in Lanark have three options: emergency housing in a hotel, a bus ride to the nearest shelter in an urban centre, or the streets.

But after today, a tiny house could be a fourth option.

Terrilee Kelford, chair of Cornerstone Landing Youth Services, says the 200-square-foot home is meant to serve as a solution for homeless youth in Lanark County. 1:43

Lea Maurice and her husband experienced homelessness in their youth and remember the harsh conditions.

That past motivated Maurice, a business owner, to help organize fundraisers for the project.

"We've slept on streets, in alleys, on park slides, and been scared out of our minds about what's going to happen the next day with no shelter. It's something we don't want our children to have to live through," she said.

"Knowing you've got somewhere to go is amazing. I'd live in [a tiny house] myself, if I didn't have a million kids."

Lea Maurice says she experienced homelessness in her youth and having a home like this could have made a big difference. 0:53

The $85,000 tiny home includes a washer and dryer, a bathroom, kitchen and living room. It has a composting toilet and connects to the homeowner's water and hydro.

Organizers are looking for volunteers willing to host future tiny houses on their property. The eight-by-24 homes are on wheels and can be moved to a willing landowner's preferred spot.

The tiny home project came together through a partnership between Algonquin College and the housing non-profit Cornerstone Landing. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC)

Cornerstone has found one volunteer so far who has committed to make room for a tiny home.

The next obstacle is municipal bylaws that don't currently allow these structures on private property.

Tay Valley was the first township in Lanark to update its bylaws and support tiny homes. Perth — another town within the County of Lanark — is working on updating its legislation to allow them.

"Tiny homes are the way of the future, and I am confident that we will have a bylaw in place to accommodate tiny homes this fall," said Perth Mayor John Fenik. 

The tiny home follows Ontario's building code and is insulated to withstand harsh winters. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC )

Building blocks

Cornerstone is planning to hit the road with the prototype tiny home, making stops across across eastern Ontario to encourage municipalities that don't allow them to update their bylaws. 

"Just today I got a call about a 24-year-old homeless person. And it kills me because we're not quite ready," Kelford said.

"But I'm determined that this will be up and running by fall. I don't want another winter where I am getting phone calls about young people sleeping outside."

Terrilee Kelford works with homeless youth across Lanark County. She helped broker the partnership to construct the tiny home. (Kate Tenenhouse/CBC )

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