Tiny house, big hopes: Hamilton community group offers innovative approach to homelessness


Published February 1, 2022 at 12:36 pm


A new community group has formed to help tackle housing and homelessness issues in Hamilton and their innovative approach, while tiny, could make a big impact.

The Hamiton Alliance of Tiny Shelters (HATS) announced its launch on Monday (Jan, 31) and is dedicated to providing safe, warm shelter and supports to those experiencing homelessness in the city.

“We’re tackling homelessness in practical ways by setting up warm and safe tiny cabins for those living unhoused in our community,” the HATS website says.

“The cabins are intended as a temporary solution to fill the systemic gaps in the current housing crisis.”

This approach to Hamilton’s current housing crisis has been inspired by Kitchener’s A Better Tent City, an award-winning program that today provides 50 residents with warm and safe homes that are supported by wrap-around services.

In Hamilton, HATS is hoping to find a permanent place to build 10 to 20 of the tiny cabins, which are being built by Stoney Creek’s In the Back Yard, to support some of the many people living rough on the city’s streets and in parks.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has suggested that the former Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School site might be a viable option to help address the city’s current housing and homelessness issues, but ultimately, the City of Hamilton would have to approve.

HATS operates on the ‘housing first’ principle. This concept recognizes the importance of protection from harsh physical elements but emphasizes the dignity and comfort of having a safe space of one’s own where their basic needs are met.

Once these basic needs are met, it’s felt that the wrap-around supports that are readily available in the community become that much more accessible.

These supports include:

  • Medical care
  • Mental health supports
  • Peer support and mentorship
  • Addictions counselling
  • Harm-reduction supports
  • System Navigation supports
  • Housing supports

The following organizations are represented on the HATS steering committee:

  • Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton
    (our Administrative lead & financial reporting)
  • Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
  • Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction
  • Indwell
  • First Unitarian Church of Hamilton, Housing Committee

Since the onslaught of the pandemic, Hamilton’s shelter system has been severely strained. Many houseless individuals have sought shelter in tent cities or encampments throughout the city.

In consideration of the unprecedented global health crisis in the spring of 2020, the City opted to not enforce a by-law that prohibits camping on City of Hamilton property. In August 2021, however, council voted to resume pre-pandemic enforcement.

Encampment evictions have led to several tense standoffs between housing advocates and police in recent months. The evictions have also highlighted the need for support outside of the traditional shelter system.

A report in front of Hamilton’s emergency and community services committee in mid-January noted that at peak times, 80 to 140 people in the city do not have a roof over their heads, and a recent study by local doctors said 19 unhoused people died over a six-month period.

Advocates have been calling on City Hall for years to provide housing and shelter alternatives that respect the unique needs of individuals, a call that has grown more desperate as the pandemic drags on.

Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann led the charge in this regard, introducing a motion that earned unanimous support in January that called for a ‘human rights-based, health-focused’ approach to ending encampments.

“I fundamentally truly believe that if we brought together the right minds, we could surely come up with a solution that would result in those individuals no longer needing to live encamped on city property, or anywhere in our city,” Nann said at the time.

“This is about ending encampments, this is about ending homelessness.”

To learn more about HATS, visit the organization’s website.

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