Thunder Bay

Facing a housing crisis, Kenora-area organizations look to tiny homes as solution for youth aging out of care

That the Kenora district, and frankly many cities, towns and First Nations across northern Ontario are staring down a housing crisis is nothing new. And as political leaders across the country dole out billions and seek creative solutions to address the crisis, tiny homes are emerging as a possible, cost-effective solution.

Wabaseemoong Independent Nations and Kenora Association of Community Living both developing tiny home model

The Kenora Association of Community Living (KACL) is preparing their first tiny home for a summer move-in date. (Submitted by Deborah Everley)

Tiny home projects or "villages" have been proposed in major cities like Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Now, a couple of organizations in the Kenora district are exploring the prospect of building tiny homes specifically for young people aging out of care.

These tiny homes are emerging as a possible, cost-effective solution to address the housing in these communities.

"We're seeing a significant increase in young adults who are aging out of the care system or have aged out of the care system to within our homeless population, particularly in Kenora," said Henry Wall, the chief administrative officer for the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB).

With the remarkable increase in construction supplies as a result of the pandemic, Wall said North American communities will have to ditch "this idea that we need big homes with a large footprint," and move toward houses that have smaller footprints and lower utility bills.

"We are very confident that these pilots will demonstrate that the tiny home is a real solution for northern Ontario."

Young people want 'a place to call home'

The Kenora Association of Community Living (KACL), which provides services to children, adults with developmental disabilities and adults with mental health needs, is one of the organizations with a tiny home pilot project.

Deborah Everley, the chief executive officer of the KACL, said her agency isn't a housing provider, but in recent years they've had to move into that role.

"What we've been finding is that obviously if people don't have a place to call home, then all the supports in the world aren't necessarily going to be as impactful," Everley said.

The association is preparing their first tiny home for a summer move-in date. It's a converted shipping container that is attached to an existing residence operated by the KACL.

"What young people told us is that they wanted to have their own home, a place to call home, and they didn't want to have staff inside their home unless they were invited in," said Everley.

The idea isn't to build a tiny home community, Everley added, but to test whether this model is affordable and provides the right infrastructure to support young people gain the skills of being a good tenant or homeowner and give them more independence and stability.

Henry Wall, the chief administrative officer of the Kenora District Services Board, says there is a growing number of people aging out of the child welfare system and moving into homelessness in northwestern Ontario. (Matt Vis/CBC)

Henry Wall of the KDSB added the tiny home is a good example of a purpose-built housing that allows for required programming and services to be onsite.

"Purpose-built housing is designed to allow young adults to make mistakes without it resulting in an eviction," said Wall. "That type of housing stock just doesn't really exist."

He said a number of housing projects are planned for the Kenora district, including a $1.5-million housing support program for youth aging out of the care system.

Tiny homes have emerged as a possible solution to the housing crisis plaguing cities, towns and First Nations across the country. Now...a couple of organizations in Kenora are looking at bringing tiny homes to northwestern Ontario. Hear from the chief administrative officer for the Kenora District Services Board and the CEO of the Kenora Association of Community Living. 8:08

Youth-led project brings renewable energy and housing solution to First Nation

Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, a First Nation with roughly 2,000 members about 120 kilometres northwest of Kenora, is also looking at tiny homes to address a shortage of housing on-reserve.

The idea of a tiny house powered by solar was actually the idea of a group of youth from the First Nation who were involved with either the child welfare system or the youth criminal justice system, said Gillian Matheson, the mental health coordinator with Wabaseemoong's child and youth wellness centre.

"At the time, they decided that housing was the biggest need and if they had stable, safe housing, they would be able to lead a better life essentially," Matheson said.

Since 2018, the First Nation has been working to make the idea come to fruition.

They started a youth mentorship program that has taught young people construction skills completing a range of projects in the community and in the bush, they developed drawings for the tiny home and they received funding to build the first tiny home and to pay young community members to do the construction.

But the pandemic has forced the tiny home team to re-consider their plans.

"The cost of building materials has gone up by 300 per cent," said Matheson, "but we're kind of at a standstill right now because the funding that we applied for last year is no longer enough to actually build the tiny home."

Matheson said there is a lot of community excitement about the project, and they hope the first tiny home can become a model for how Wabaseemoong and can provide more housing for its members.

She said the youth-led project team hopes to begin construction this season.

Wabaseemoong Independent Nation is working on a tiny homes pilot project with hopes to start building this summer. Hear from the mental health coordinator with Wabasemoong's Child and Youth Wellness Centre. 3:10

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