Demonstration Cabin Showcases Alternative Housing Option

The completed shelter, a model of a better alternative to homelessness, sits in front of Christ's Church Cathedral. Photo: Charles Meeks
By on April 1, 2022
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Bishop Susan Bell and the community at Christ’s Church Cathedral have stepped up to provide both advocacy and support for a local initiative trying to respond to homelessness in a new and compassionate way in Hamilton.

Homelessness hit the news in a big way here in October 2020 when city councillors voted to dismantle the encampments in which people were living and move them along. To where, you might ask?

Some were able to move to shelters or hotels for temporary solutions, but the numbers showed those were already filled to overflowing. Most people living rough know first-hand the unsafe and unpleasant realities of shelters and refused to go there.

Couples are not allowed to shelter together, so they often chose to stay outside.

In the end, people were shuffled along to nowhere or more of the same somewhere else.

The mélange of tarps and tents had grown in communities across Ontario by the summer of 2021, the pandemic exacerbating the number of people experiencing homelessness. When the fall came around, there were still about 100 people living outside in Hamilton, along the escarpment or in local parks.

That’s when HATS came to life. The Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters was formed by a tiny group of caring individuals who could not watch another winter come to town and threaten their siblings sleeping outside.

Their idea was born from watching a response to homelessness in Kitchener-Waterloo, where small cabins were provided for people as a warm and safer solution to their outdoor living. A Better Tent City (ATBC) now houses about 50 people who have formed a community in a lot in the light industrial area of Kitchener. Full-time staff and supports from social services ensure people are able to get the help they need, as well as a roof over their heads.

In Hamilton, the city council is not as open and flexible as that of Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Kingston, and other cities where these temporary solutions to homelessness exist, so there has been little progress made on finding a suitable site.

While the public school board had offered a closed high school, Sir John A. MacDonald, as the first site on which HATS could set up ten cabins, the local councillor was not on board. Bishop Susan Bell recorded a video and appeared at the committee meeting as a delegate in tandem with Bishop Douglas Crosby from the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, who wrote a letter of support. Ultimately, the site failed.

In the meantime, as winter winds its way down with most people surviving the frigid impact of the season, HATS is working toward other opportunities to make this happen in Hamilton.

On March 2, Christ’s Church Cathedral became home to the first HATS cabin, erected as a model for the community to take a look at and consider supporting. It is also a chance for people with the current lived experience of homelessness to see what’s being proposed and ensure they are in agreement with the idea.

As the cathedral website states, this is a community inspired by the Gospel to “Seek justice and reconciliation as we learn to stand with those at the margins of society.”

HATS is grateful to Bishop Susan Bell, Dean Tim Dobbin, and the entire community at Christ’s Church Cathedral, for taking a public stand and showing love, justice, and outreach to people at the margins. Stop by and check it out in the courtyard at Cathedral Place!

For more information on the HATS initiative, visit their website.

  • Deirdre Pike is the diocese’s Justice and Outreach Program Consultant. She also serves on the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, and is a regular contributor to the Hamilton Spectator.