People experiencing homelessness need help sooner rather than later.
That shared belief recently brought together a coalition of community members with the goal of creating a collection of tiny homes where people in need can live temporarily as local politicians ponder more permanent solutions.
“It’s unbelievable that we live in a community where there’s significant privilege and yet we are allowing our most vulnerable to be at the mercy of the elements,” said Mike Marcolongo, spokesperson for the Tiny Homes Bridging Coalition. “These folks are in vulnerable situations.
“It’s getting worse.”
Coalition members include health and addictions specialists, the business community, faith groups and a custom home builder – folks from different walks of life, of different beliefs but with a shared desire to help those in need.
The group’s goal is to find a suitable location for the temporary residences and arrange for any necessary land use approvals, as well as coordinate community fundraising and material donations.
Then there’s attraction and oversight of volunteers to build the units.
“We hope we can (house) some people before next winter sets in,” Marcolongo said of the project’s desired timeline.
Of course, Marcolongo noted, the City of Guelph and County of Wellington would have roles to play as well. Coalition members launched discussions with Mayor Cam Guthrie a couple weeks ago, with plans to approach county officials in the near future.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the mayor’s announcement,” he said, referring to Guthrie’s Thursday morning announcement of his intent to order city staff to investigate the logistics of setting up a community of tiny homes. “It’s exciting that things are aligning.”
However, community-led initiatives can be more nimble, with results coming together more quickly than governments typically take action, Marcolongo said.
“As a community response, we’re able to tap community goodwill, local businesses, we’re able to work with landowners … it means we’re able to mobilize more quickly,” he said, pointing out government bodies have to follow set processes for procurement of land and services, as well as liability issues.
Though the group formed last month, the idea of creating a community-based effort to address homelessness has been percolating for a while now.
“(The coalition) came about from folks who are providing services to the homeless and people who deeply care about our community having a conversation about what can be a community-led approach, not solve the issue but address the issue,” Marcolongo explained.
At this point, the coalition has received an initial commitment from a private landowner who’s willing to provide up to two acres of land, accommodating up to 50 tiny home residents. However, site selection is not a done deal and the use of publicly-owned land hasn’t been ruled out, Marcolongo noted.
Ideally, he added, the chosen site will be at least an acre in size, with access to water and sewer services, be accessible to social service providers, and be located in a willing neighbourhood.
Coalition members have also visited two tiny home settlements in the area, including A Better Tented City in Kitchener, to learn from experiences there.
In the next few weeks, the coalition is expected to issue a request for expressions of interest to hear from other potential hosts.
Details about how concerned community members can help out with the effort are slated to be announced in the near future.