By Joelle Kovach
Peterborough Examiner Reporter
Feb. 4, 2023
An idea to install two tiny homes in the parking lot of the former Peterborough Naval Association — a property now owned by the city — isn’t likely to happen after all.
Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes (PATH), a grassroots organization that is searching for a property for 15 tiny homes in its possession, says it has other plans.
Dan Hennessey, a longtime advocate for marginalized and homeless people, had proposed that PATH put two homes in the parking lot of the former navy hall.
He said a new ruling from Ontario Superior Court of Justice, arising from a case in Waterloo Region, would leave the City of Peterborough powerless to remove tiny homes — he believes the court decision “sets a precedent.”
The court recently denied Waterloo Region’s request to evict about 50 people from a Kitchener encampment on an empty lot because the judge wasn’t satisfied there was adequate indoor shelter space in the region.
Hennessey said at an informal meeting Thursday with some other housing advocates that installing two homes outside the former navy hall would attract media attention and “force the hand” of the city to promptly come up with a location for a group of tiny homes.
Father Leo Coughlin, the first chair of PATH, was at that meeting; he followed up by calling on PATH to discuss it at their board meeting on Friday.
Then on Saturday PATH issued a press release stating that the board had discussed it, and although they have “the utmost respect” for Hennessey, and called Father Leo their “honoured adviser,” they aren’t going to act on the idea.
“PATH agrees that the growing crisis of homelessness and severe weather cries out for an immediate response,” states the release.
“However, PATH’s whole project is based on the power of community. Two cabins are not a community, and a wooden cabin with no electricity is not significantly warmer than a tent,” it states.
“PATH wants this pilot project of 15 sleeping cabins with supporting buildings, wraparound services and strong volunteer engagement to be a place to live that can stabilize and transform lives. Healing in community is a model that works. It takes time, it is cost effective and it involves the whole community, not just the service agencies — though they are essential to its success,” it goes on.
“At this point in time, PATH needs to work with both our civic and societal leaders and not rush to plunk down a symbolic number of sleeping cabins with no supports as a challenge to the municipality. We ask caring citizens of Peterborough to support the outreach workers, especially on these very cold nights. We will be there, as individuals, but we are not prepared to jeopardize a long-term precious solution for a short-term moment in the media.”
That “long-term precious solution” eluded PATH, in early December: at that time Coun. Alex Bierk had wanted PATH to be allowed to put up their tiny homes this winter at the former United Canadian Malt property at Park and Lansdowne streets under a temporary use bylaw.
Bierk was further proposing that the city offer $100,000 for the pilot project, which would include washroom facilities, food and staff from the Elizabeth Fry Society to help those living in the tiny homes.
But the proposal was voted down 8-3, with Coun. Joy Lachica and Coun. Matt Crowley voting along with Bierk.
Some councillors who voted against the proposal said the neighbours ought to be consulted first.
So Mayor Jeff Leal moved that city staff work with PATH to scour Peterborough looking at all potential locations — including city-owned ones — and present a plan to council in February.
Council voted in favour of that plan; the report hasn’t been released yet.