Tiny homes may be a recent trend, but they have already made an impact on the way that some cities are addressing the needs of their local homeless populations. Measuring anywhere up to 400 square feet in size, the modern iteration of the tiny house began with an interest in downsizing and has continued to gain popularity on the premise of sustainable living. More recently, the idea has gained traction as a viable option to offer a safe, clean and more long-term place of residence for people relying on the shelter system, or without access to permanent, secure housing.
Both in Canada and in the United States, projects using tiny houses as a stepping stone to helping people transition out of homelessness are in various states of proposal and implementation. In Hamilton, two local organizations, Good Shepherd and The Social Planning and Research Council, are working with the city on a proposal to “build duplexes of tiny houses for women in danger of homelessness,” according to a recent CBC article. On the Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation Reserve in BC, the community has gone a step further. As a result of the advocacy of local resident and the former capital housing and lands manager Aileen Prince, four men who were previously housing-insecure have now spent a year living in tiny homes built by the community. The positive impact of the tiny homes has led to the band’s decision to build a further two tiny homes to continue the initiative.
For a project currently in the works by Kingston residents David Timan and Adam Bloemendal, tiny homes are at the core of creating a space for the most at-risk members of the local homeless population. Both Timan and Bloemendal are heavily involved in a local drop in center, Nightlight, where Bloemendal is the Executive Director. “All most of them needs is a home to call their own that charges minimal rent,” says Timan, whose vision is to create a community of tiny houses within close proximity of a centralized hub of services. While the full list is still in the works, Timan hopes it will include a clinic, a food center, a space for arts programming, and a smattering of other organizations which would allow local residents to engage with one another and the services. It would also be open to those not residing in the community, allowing for easy access to a grouping of related services targeted to those who may not have steady access to medical services, affordable food and clothing, and other essential resources.
Asked whether their project would be viable in a larger city, Timan said that the concept could easily be modified to fit different urban areas, with small cities relying more on tiny houses or semi-detached homes, while bigger cities may be able to do something with condos. However, the main challenge faced by Timan and Bloemendal, and on a broader scale, remains funding. Creating communities such as the one proposed in Kingston requires resources to be able to transfer existing organizations into one location, which can be a costly and time-consuming endeavour. Similarly, while tiny house projects are already in the works in places like Hamilton, where the tiny house initiative is geared primarily towards women in danger of homelessness, the proposal stage has taken over a year and the implementation is still a thing of the future.
While the Kingston project, like the Hamilton one, is still in the planning stages, Timan says that the best thing that people can do in the short term in order to help their local homeless population is to build personal relationships. Spaces such as Kingston’s Nightlight, where people can come in and socialize with volunteers, are crucial to these interactions. Although tiny house communities as a solution to homelessness are not yet being used to their full potential in Canada, the concept of centralizing resources, and for the community to remain involved with their local homeless shelters and programming, are important to continually promote. They are the basis for the larger scale projects which will hopefully make their way into our cities in the next few years.
Tiny Homes are a great example of projects that work towards homelessness prevention which is one of the main focuses of Raising the Roof. Like the tiny homes initiative, Raising the Roof’s Reside program works to prevent homelessness by repurposing vacant houses to create affordable housing for youth and families at risk of homelessness.
Thanks to our amazing volunteer Anastasiya for this article.