Why are private citizens involved in attempting to solve the homelessness crisis in Peterborough?

Everyone needs a place to sleep, a place to call home and people who care.

What is the housing situation in Peterborough?

As of April 2022, 317 people are listed as homeless in the City and County of Peterborough. More than half of these have a high acuity, which means that their best housing solution is supportive housing.

Shelter beds, where available, are not always the answer for many people with complex needs. Our unhoused neighbours tell us that not everyone can comply with rules or tolerate theft and violence they witness. (No couples, no pets, no privacy, is a barrier). Those with addictions and mental health issues can have trouble in crowded, congregate settings.

We are in a severe, ever- growing housing crisis in Peterborough (Hovering around 1% vacancy rate). Most alarming is the shortage of affordable rental housing for low income citizens and a scarcity of permanent, supportive housing for the most vulnerable.

This situation is exacerbated by the opioid crisis and effects of the pandemic on the mental and physical well-being of all citizens but it is the most vulnerable among us who suffer most.

What has contributed to this crisis and what is the outlook?

The financialization of rental housing has drastically affected affordability for low income earners, as has the gradual disappearance over the past few decades of single room occupancy units. Affordable spaces in boarding and rooming houses and hotels, often occupied by marginalized, low income singles, are no longer available to them.

The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario questions the ability of federal or provincial programs to bring relief to low income households and the homeless (Housing is Fundamental 2021)

The Financial Accountability Office projects that the total number of households in “core housing need” will increase to 815,500 in 2027, an increase of 80,500 from 2018.

What is the the City / County of Peterborough doing to address homelessness?

The City and County have outlined their direction in the Peterborough’s “Built for Zero” report, that aims to end chronic homelessness by 2025.

Can it be done?

“This can only be done with a collaborative, community-wide approach”. (United Way 2021) Commissioner of Community Services, Sheldon Laidman’s report #CSSS22-004, May 9, 2022, strongly recommends more proactive and preventative actions that develop an all- community response.

Many social agencies, organizations, faith groups and friends and allies of people experiencing homelessness are working daily to help but there need to be more options.

How does PATH fit into the City / County’s plan?

Peterborough Action for Tiny Homes (PATH) is an innovative project offering a low-cost, community solution, to a high profile community problem.

It offers a housing alternative that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, while meeting the common need for autonomy and privacy within a safe and secure environment.

PATH is following a model that has been proven to work, with the Community First model in Austin Texas. Our plans have also been influenced by the work in other communities, such as: A Better Tent City (ABTC), Kitchener – Father Toby Collins and Jeff Wilmer

Our Livable Solutions, Kingston – Chrystal Wilson,

12 Neighbours, Fredricton, NB, as well as many others in Canada.

How?

PATH will combine compact, four-season, private spaces (sleeping cabins measuring 8’ x 12’), with common facilities in serviced buildings, within a village-like setting. We hope to help create a culture of mutual care, respect and dignity for everyone, where people can heal from the trauma they’ve endured, recover and reach out to engage with the larger community to learn and work together. This is a journey that will take time and the hands and hearts of everyone involved.

Phase 1 will consist of at least 15 sleeping cabins on approximately 3 acres, several communal buildings including one for dining and gathering, one with washrooms, showers and laundry facilities, a small office and meeting space.

A community garden is planned and at the centre of the site there will be an all-season structure for outdoor meals, shelter and community events. If 15 people are out of the cold this winter, we will have reduced that number of people experiencing homelessness in Peterborough by 10% over last year.

How will this project impact the community?

Tiny homes/sleeping cabin communities we have examined, all highlight the impact of trauma on people who have experienced chronic homelessness. Most will have some challenges -mental health issues, substance abuse problems and often complex needs. Some will be medically vulnerable and frequent users of emergency services.

Undoubtedly, problems will arise and they will be managed.

Residents will be carefully selected and expected to sign agreements, which clearly explain conditions of residency.

Counselling, mediation and conflict resolution opportunities will be made available.

What does your immediate plan forward look like?

The community launch on August 27 kicked off a model sleeping cabin tour that ran until the municipal election in October. This tour intended to inform, educate and raise awareness around homelessness and the stigma around homelessness. Getting to know our neighbours, wherever they’ve been, was a major benefit of the tour.

Volunteers, along with people with lived experience of homelessness, connected, shared and prepared for the beginning of our housing initiative. This was the beginning of our creation of community, through awareness and information sharing.

What supports are required from the broader Peterborough community?

Awareness of the current situation is crucial. Every person can contribute something to the PATH effort. Volunteers are needed in all areas of community support – contact us at: pathadm22@gmail.com

Our community is needed to help us create a PATH forward by spreading the word through their increased knowledge and awareness.

What do future stages involve?

We will, as the project evolves, engage in ongoing training, assessment and evaluation of the service being provided to residents and strive to engage the larger community in support and friendship of their new neighbours.

Social enterprise opportunities, training and education for residents will grow into a space where anyone will be able to find a space to share their gifts, learn and grow together, as one intentional, caring community.

THIS IS THE IMPACT PATH COULD HAVE ON THE COMMUNITY

It does “take a village” and will take a tremendous effort from our whole community to bring this vision to reality but it can be done. It’s happening in Kitchener, in Kingston, in London, Woodstock, in Fredericton, in Hamilton and more-building community as we build safe spaces to live.

What does it cost?

It costs about $200,000 per unit of privately built affordable housing. It costs about $6,000 to build a four-season, insulated sleeping cabin.

PATH has pledges of donations of both funds and volunteer contributions of time, services in kind and will continue these efforts.

Fundraising will be ongoing and grant applications for government funding ongoing.

Cost of not adequately housing our poorest citizens (healthcare, social services, justice systems and other funded programs) increases.

Homelessness alone costs the Canadian economy more than $7 billion annually. (Homeless Hub)

What is the biggest barrier you face?

We invest in major infrastructure and we realize that it requires an on-going investment. When we look at the essentials of life – Air, Water, Food, Housing – it would seem that we believe that these are “free” and that no investment is required.

This ingrained attitude is our greatest barrier.

We need assistance in breaking down this barrier to ensure that there is not only one-time funding, through good-will and charity or “emergency Government funding,” to assist the homeless, but instead that there is recognition that these essentials of life require an on-going commitment and stabilized funding to ensure that they remain available for us all to enjoy equally.

Any final thoughts?

The solution to eliminating homelessness is housing.

PATH will develop a housing community, unique to the needs of our neighbours who most need it and the supports required to survive, heal, stabilize and thrive in their own community. 15 cabins will bring 15 people in from the cold this winter.

It’s a start. People genuinely care and want to help.

How can I donate?

Visit our donation page here. There are many options available.