As the province looks to create more housing options that meet the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, tiny shelters are emerging as a big part of the solution.
Across the province, more and more tiny shelters and tiny villages are popping up, offering a new and innovative solution to provide semi-permanent housing.
The City of Vancouver hopes to launch its first-ever “tiny shelters” pilot project for the unhoused in the first quarter of 2023. The $1.5-million project will feature 10 tiny shelters at the parking lot of the Lu'ma Native Housing Society on Terminal Avenue.
After being approved in February 2022, the city awarded a contract to Pittfield Design Inc. to construct the tiny village. According to Brian Borsato, the company's president, who is working alongside Rob Calis from ZenDenZ, the 100-square-foot units can accommodate up to two people and will have access to the existing resources at the adjacent shelter.
Pittfield Design Inc. is also working on a tiny village in Port Alberni, the third tiny-home community on the island, called The Watyaqit Tiny Home Village. The tiny village comes after the creation of two other communities in Duncan and Victoria.
“Municipalities are wanting to shelter and look after their people. And I think these two pilot projects will really bring in that difference between housing and sheltering. Sheltering is the first step, and it's really important,” Calis said.
Other cities like Seattle and Los Angeles have adopted the method of using semi-permanent tiny shelters, but Canada hasn’t adopted them as quickly, according to Calis.
Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry has advocated for tiny shelters on council, as they can offer a solution to the limited land available for affordable housing.
“It's a temporary solution designed to deal with people's immediate needs while we get them into permanent housing, which in the City of Vancouver, we just don't have the permanent housing,” Fry said. “As we earnestly work towards getting these new permanent housing solutions, this is sort of a temporary stopgap.”
Fry acknowledged the recent announcement from the province and City of Vancouver that will provide 100 people with housing in two temporary bridge-to-housing projects with 90 units.
“But we run into this challenge where we just don't have that much surface area land to do this efficiently,” he said.
Tiny shelters can offer a solution to get housing on lots of land that are unique or small.
Bryn Davidson, co-owner at Lanefab Design/Build and Oori Architecture, has been an advocate of tiny homes and shelters. He has built tiny shelter prototypes in addition to being involved in a project surrounding a tiny property in East Van.
“The way I would put it is permanent housing is better than work-camp housing, which is in some ways better than tiny houses, which is better than being in a tent,” Davidson said. “So I think all of these things are needed. I don't want people to be in tiny house shelters permanently. But the advantage is they can go in temporarily on a site, they can be built and installed really quickly and they can be personalized in a way that you won't get with institutional housing.”
Davidson said that when his tiny house prototype was put on display in the Downtown Eastside, there was positive feedback from residents in that area who were interested in living in a tiny shelter.
“The first step towards anything is just having a secure shelter, a place where they can actually lock up their stuff during the day and be warm at night,” he said. “I think they really are a good first step in terms of just getting something done, because it takes so damn long to actually accomplish anything in terms of actual housing.”
Fry echoed this saying that tiny shelters offer a door that can lock and more security than is found in single-room occupancy hotels (also known as SROs), or in a tent.
“This pilot for the tiny shelters will probably be eclipsed by the provincial project, which is more of the work-camp trailers,” he said. “Until the province steps up to the plate, we're gonna have to do something and I do feel gratitude that the province is stepping up to the plate with some new innovative solutions that recognize we need solutions now. We can't wait for a couple of years to build these purpose-built, permanent housing solutions.”