Student volunteers help prepare tiny homes for the homeless in Kitchener, Ont. Photos, including cover, courtesy of Fr. Toby Collins

Tiny homes’ project houses homeless

By 
  • November 12, 2020

A tiny homes project out of a Kitchener, Ont., Catholic church is keeping the homeless safe and warm as the region prepares for its first winter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initiated by staff and parishioners of St. Mary’s Parish, 24 tiny homes have been built and fashioned to service those in need of shelter.

Over the summer, 10 homes were built on the church property as a temporary solution for the homeless challenge as the region looked for shelter solutions for those in need, while adhering to COVID-19 social distancing protocols. Eventually, those structures were transported to a nearby lot of tiny homes owned and supported by parishioner Ron Doyle. There are now 24 homes located at lot 42 at 41 Ardelt Place, just a 10-minute drive from the church, providing shelter for individuals who would otherwise be living in tent cities.

“The three things that they seem to need most are security, good food and unconditional love,” said Fr. Toby Collins, pastor at the parish which has long fed and clothed the homeless in downtown Kitchener. “Those are the things that are coming up time and time again from those who are experiencing homelessness and we are responding as best we can.”

The 8- x 10-foot structures were only intended to house people during the pandemic, but those involved with the initiative believe its success shows tiny homes may be a permanent solution for a certain segment of the homeless population.

“Those who would stay outside in tents even during the winter choose this option because it gives them a great deal more security,” said Collins. “They get a certain amount of autonomy at the same time with the tiny homes. They can screw things into the walls and paint which allows for creativity and personalization.”

Those living in the homes are also permitted to bring their pets. Couples who may face challenges accessing other forms of shelter find them as a good way to stay secure and together.

Tony D’Amato Stortz, outreach co-ordinator at St. Mary’s, has been with the project since August and has spent the last few years working with various organizations and initiatives serving the homeless in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. He says the homes are providing an answer for those facing challenges that may make them unsuited for traditional shelters.

“(Other shelter initiatives) provide a lot of services, but also a lot of requirements for its members,” said Stortz. “A lot of folks don’t do well with rules or have really severe mental health conditions or clash too much with the system that operates those places. I know people who were restricted from (other shelters) who right now live in a tiny home at lot 42, and they’re doing much better.”

Stortz facilitated a group of university students and volunteers to transform the structures from garden sheds into small homes. The team installed windows, insulation, vapour barriers, fireproof walls, flooring and painted the exteriors. Also installed were smoke detectors, lofts for storage and electricity to allow them to be heated in the winter. By fashioning garden sheds, the homes are just below the size requiring a building permit, which allowed the team to execute quickly.

The tiny homes project is one of several initiatives in the Kitchener region helping the homeless during COVID-19, including the temporary repurposing of hotel rooms. Doyle, a local industrialist who owns several large event spaces in the area — and is described by Stortz as a “rule breaker” in the best of terms — has been instrumental in getting the tiny homes project off the ground.

“He’s someone who says let’s do the right thing first and let the bureaucrats figure out how to, how to legalize it afterwards,” said Stortz. “Obviously event spaces were the first thing to go when COVID hit and he saw the homelessness crisis and said, ‘Bring them my way. Let’s do this thing.’ ”

Doyle pays the utilities on the property and there are hopes, in continued collaboration with St. Mary’s, to add more tiny homes in the near future. With several people still living in tents on the property, and the cost of a tiny home running at about $5,000 each, Collins hopes to add more homes for Christmas in what is projected to be a dark winter. 

See stmarysrcchurch.ca.

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