Region still looking at designated spaces for encampments

By Joe McGinty

The Region of Waterloo is moving closer to creating designated spaces for encampments in the region. 

Regional staff along with community partners are expediting the operation of outdoor shelter communities and are working with local municipalities to find suitable locations for these spaces. 

“We are facing an unprecedented housing crisis which requires looking at new approaches to support residents, while the community collectively works to increase access to housing,” said Peter Sweeney, community services commissioner for the Region of Waterloo. 

With the increasing and evolving needs of the community, the region is looking for multiple sites outside of downtown cores that can be quickly set up to support those living un-sheltered, he said.

A recent survey of people living in three unsanctioned encampments in Kitchener and 150 Main St. in Cambridge found that close to half would be willing to move to a hybrid shelter/outdoor encampment, even if it were in another one of the tri-cities or near-by communities.

Nearly seven-in-ten also said they'd be willing to walk 30-minutes or more between a managed site and a downtown core while nearly nine-in-ten said they'd consider taking some type of transit.

The search for a suitable location for a sanctioned encampment space includes Cambridge, specifically in vacant industrial spaces regional staff believe would be a good fit for the outdoor shelter community.

Locations that can be quickly retrofitted and turned into one of these communities is a high priority for Sweeney and his team. 

“We're looking for places that can be operated and operationalized relatively quickly because when winter is here, there is an urgent need in the community and all across Waterloo region for housing,” said Sweeney.

According to the region’s Interim Housing Solutions strategy, an outdoor shelter will provide a safer alternative to an encampment with stable connections to support services.

Things that a normal encampment would not have such as running water, electricity, bathrooms and heating will all be provided to the residents. The outdoor shelter community will be a hybrid of tents and modular homes giving the space options for different types of housing to meet different needs. 

The region is still looking for a community partner to run the facility and help them create the model for what this community would look like.

The finished sites will include wraparound services, security and each location will be staffed 24 hours a day by the service provider, Sweeney said. 

“We are working hard to have outdoor shelters in operation in Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge over the coming months. We know that residents in our community face systemic challenges and there are no solutions without collaboration and compassion,” he added. 

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