Tiny home communities may be solution to homelessness in Toronto, expert says

Toronto needs to get creative when it comes to homelessness. And one expert says the city should try tiny home communities, to provide homeless people with functional places in which to live.

Recommendation comes after city demolishes encampment under Gardiner Expressway

Toronto city staff cleared a homeless encampment under the Gardiner Expressway last week, but an expert says unless the city can provide something else, many of the people living there will likely be back. (Paul Smith/CBC)

An expert on tent cities says Toronto needs to get creative when it comes to homelessness.

Eric Weissman, a University of New Brunswick associate professor of sociology, says the city could build what are known as tiny home communities to provide homeless people with functional places in which to live.

Such communities would be safer for homeless people than living in encampments under roadways, such as the one under the Gardiner Expressway the city just dismantled, he said. Also known as microhousing, tiny home communities bring together tiny houses in an organized space in which people are able to get the services they need.

"The city might consider looking at these other models that work in other cities," Weissman told CBC Toronto on Monday. "It's really a way of re-imaging housing."

Eric Weissman, an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick, says the city should consider creating tiny home communities for homeless people. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

Calgary, for example, is building a tiny home community, Homes for Heroes, for homeless veterans that's set to open this year. Meanwhile, some Torontonians are already looking for other options, such as The Cramper, a mini-home with a firm roof and a safe, warm sleeping place. 

With Toronto's shelter system running at capacity, and homeless people being forced from makeshift camps, there's a growing pressure for the city to figure out a way to house people. 

The homeless people living in the encampment had been given eviction notices in January that gave them 14 days notice in which to leave.

'One cannot camp on city property'

According to Brad Ross, the city's chief communications officer, the encampment under the Gardiner, near Lower Simcoe Street, was one of about nine in Toronto cleared by crews using heavy equipment.

Ross said there was a fire earlier this month at the encampment, although no one was injured. There was also much debris. He said the city had to act to maintain public safety. There were open flames, gas cans and propane used at the encampment, he added.

The downtown encampment included this makeshift home. (Paul Smith/CBC)

He told Metro Morning that the city waited until the weather began to get warmer to shut down the encampment and city staff from its Streets to Homes program worked with the people living there to find housing before crews moved in.

"One cannot camp on city property," he said. 

Ross said the problem of homelessness is a complex one.

"We continue to experience this challenge as a city as a whole. City council, city staff work incredibly hard to find solutions," he said. "It is unfortunately not one where one size fits all. This is a city that cares tremendously about people."

'Build housing. Get it done'

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Weissman said the real solution to homeless is for the city to build more affordable housing.

"There is only one answer. The actual answer is to build housing. Get it done," he said on Monday. "We need to build housing. There are thousands of people waiting for supportive housing in Toronto."

Weissman said it is not surprising that the city tore down the encampment, but he expects it to reappear in short order. 

He said homeless people need three things: food, hygiene and sleep. Encampments, which are actually homes, not just places to sleep, meet those needs, he said.

"It's an illegal, drastic expression of need," he said.

"People have always lived in ravines and in these places we call dark and empty spaces in the city. People are going to live in these spaces whether the city wants them to or not."

With files from Metro Morning