Hamilton tiny cabin plan draws $100,000 donor. Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters awaits a city report and a site By (<>)Teviah Moro Spectator Reporter Wednesday, June 28, 2023
A group that aims to create a village of tiny cabins to help those struggling with homelessness in Hamilton has secured a $100,000 boost toward the cause.
The Fairmount Foundation hopes to inspire other donors, founder Heidi Henschel says.
“I know that this is not a perfect solution, but it’s one of the solutions, and I just see it as something that is valuable,” Henschel, who grew up in Hamilton but lives in Kitchener, told The Spectator.
The Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) still awaits city hall approval but hopes to realize its plan for 25 small, heated cabins with communal washrooms and kitchens as a form of transitional housing before winter arrives.
“We’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to move forward,” board member Tom Cooper said.
HATS draws inspiration from A Better Tent City, a community of tiny homes in Kitchener that’s backed by municipal support.
“I just know that there a people whose lives have changed dramatically from a Better Tent City here and have gained back their dignity,” Henschel said.
But in Hamilton, HATS has struggled to find a site for the tiny cabins. “What we’re really looking for from the city is a location,” Cooper said.
Initially, the group considered the former Sir John A. Macdonald school property but hit political and timing obstacles. Then, HATS struck a deal for a private parking lot on Barton Street East. That deal fell apart without political support amid neighbourhood resistance.
Council, in turn, has asked staff to study potential city sites and operations, with particular attention to the equitable selection of residents.
And in an update Tuesday, Dawn Danko, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, wrote the Macdonald property “is not available as a temporary shelter site” as the board works with the province “to explore options for demolition.”
Meanwhile, the city is asking for public feedback on how it should respond to encampments and larger “sanctioned” sites supported by services, including showers and washrooms, as tents pop up in parks across Hamilton.
Staff expect to report back to council in August, and a recommendation on HATS should be in the mix, housing director Michelle Baird said.
“Part of that work is that we use one of those sites as a HATS location, or that we’re looking for an agency ... to manage a site. And then HATS, of course, could be one of those.”
Staff haven’t yet examined potential sites, Baird said. But HATS has its eye on three city-owned locations:
The Barton-Tiffany lands near the west harbour; Cathedral Park behind Fortinos on King Street West; a former glass plant property at Lloyd Street and Gage Avenue that will turn into a park.
In Hamilton, roughly 1,600 people are homeless and about 165 are living outside, the city says.
Shelters are full and city officials say they need more funding from senior levels of government, notably from the province for adequate supportive housing, to help keep those with complex needs off the street.
“Most of us are addicts of some sort, so we’re struggling, but ended up here,” said Fabian Peretin as he towed a cart holding a mattress to his tent in Woodlands Park on Barton Street East.
Ultimately, he hopes for subsidized housing, said Peretin, 51, who noted his disability pension is too meagre for market rent.
In the meantime, the tiny cabins plan “is not a perfection solution, but it’s a little solution,” he said, pointing to Kitchener’s experience.
“It seems to be working, you know what I mean? I don’t know what Hamilton’s dragging their feet about.”
So far, including the Fairmount Foundation’s commitment, HATS has raised $479,000 in funds and pledges. The pledges are conditional on finding a site.
“Our anticipated first year expenditures are estimated at $700,000,” board member Dan Bednis noted.
HATS is “triage,” said Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development with Indwell, a non-profit that builds deeply affordable and supportive housing.
People who live in encampments could find stability in the tiny cabins before transitioning to supportive housing, Cubitt said.
“It’s like a waiting room in a hospital. It’s not health care, but you’re getting blood pressure checked and somebody’s paying attention to you.”
Teviah Moro is a reporter at The Spectator. email@example.com