I've been researching and writing about homelessness for many years, and have looked at the issue while traveling throughout Europe and Canada, as well as here on Salt Spring. In my post, written two years ago, I ask a number of important questions, including: Why can't we use innovative and creative ideas to create alternative housing here on Salt Spring? Why not look at what other communities have done to assist their formerly homeless residents to create community and innovative solutions to homelessness? Are tiny homes a solution to homelessness on Salt Spring Island?
Both of our local trustees mentioned tiny homes in the report from the January 19, 2021 Islands Trust Zoom meeting.
Peter Grove would like it to be easier for tiny homes to be built on Salt Spring, but he also noted that there are examples of tiny home communities that are not working out as expected. Surprising to some, we also learned that there are almost no successful tiny home communities in British Columbia, largely due to its building codes requiring minimum square footage and a bathroom.
Laura Patrick explained that one of the reasons that the proposed Bylaw 471, which allows Temporary Use Permits for residential use, had been referred to the Housing Challenges and Solutions planning project was because it had become too narrow in application. For example, it no longer addressed tiny homes, and Laura would like to see a path towards legalizing tiny homes.”
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Salt Spring Island boasts a per-capita rate of homelessness 50% higher than Victoria and double that of Vancouver. The “Point in Time” Homelessness Count done in March 2018 documented 89 unhoused individuals, and an additional 39 living in ‘provisional’, insecure housing. According to the 2016 Census, Salt Spring’s population of 10, 557 owned a total of 3,920 single family homes. Each of the island’s 183.03 square kilometers was occupied by only 57.7 individuals. That’s a lot of unused land.
The number of unhoused individuals is increasing annually, and this increase is expected to continue. Numerous local organizations are addressing the ‘homelessness issue’, developing strategic plans and applying for government funding. Seven affordable housing projects are already underway, with land secured, representing over 250 units, to address a range of affordable housing needs on SSI.
So here are a few questions I’ve been asking myself: Why are potential solutions to homelessness and lack of affordable housing so complicated, expensive and time-consuming? Why do we need to rely on government assistance to fund top-down housing developments rather than create grassroots solutions to these issues ourselves? Why can’t we use innovative and creative ideas to create alternative housing here on Salt Spring? Why not look at what other communities have done to assist their formerly homeless residents to create community and innovative solutions to homelessness?
Let’s look at Madison, Wisconsin. Their Occupy Madison (OM) is a membership non-profit organization whose mission is to join together to creatively work toward a more humane and sustainable world. They envision a place where people with or without current safe housing can live and/or work cooperatively in a way that promotes dignity, safety, stewardship, and sustainability for all. With help from numerous community groups, Occupy Madison has built nine tiny houses, a day resource center, laundry facilities and a community gardening space in the village. The 96 square foot homes are made from reclaimed and recycled materials and include a bed, a toilet, propane heat and solar panels for electricity. Each building costs around $5,000 to build and the money was raised with private donations.
Occupy Madison, Inc. has no paid staff. “We are a small group of volunteers, 100% funded by donations. Most of us have full-time jobs unrelated to our participation in OM Inc. We would LOVE to help others get started, but are overwhelmed by the global interest in our project and our very real need to manage our own affairs. Unfortunately, there is no ready guidebook for starting a tiny house village. We are quite literally making things up as we go. As we learn what works for us (and what doesn’t!), we will be only too happy to share what we have learned”.
I would like to respectfully respond to a couple of points in the report in the Islands Trust Housing needs assessment:
- Dozens of successful tiny home communities for the unhoused have been running smoothly for decades in the United States. For one example, please take a look at the information about the Occupy Madison community I mention in my blog post.
- Quebec leads the country as a major supporter of the tiny home movement in Canada. It is legal to live in a tiny home and several successful tiny home communities are thriving. What can we learn from their successes? What could we replicate here?
- While it may be true that there are examples of tiny home communities that are not working out as expected, the same could be said for any other type of housing. Surely there are also examples of gated communities, co-housing communities, single family homes and multiple unit residential housing that are not working out as expected?
- I was intrigued to read of the “Housing challenges and solutions planning project” mentioned in the report. For some reason, I was not able to find any information about this project on the Islands Trust website. What I did find was a long list of studies, reports, strategic plans, assessments and toolkits on the topic of housing needs and affordable housing…..dating back to the early 2000’s. Scanning through a report from 2009, I saw that the issues facing SSI then are the same issues facing us now. “The Most Urgent Needs: housing for those who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness is the most urgent need. There was widespread agreement that many of the housing challenges faced by this segment of the population are not merely economic, but rather a complex combination of low income and mental health issues (including addictions). There is a serious need for housing that meets both the affordability thresholds for those on social assistance or disability pension ($375 for shelter)) and provides integrated social services that can help ensure success in their housing. The form and location of housing should also be given important consideration.”
A tiny house village would provide its residents with their own dry, warm and secure place that is also part of a larger, self-supporting community. A multi-purpose common building is crucial for fostering community.
Let’s take action together now to provide housing, safety, and community to our unhoused neighbors here on Salt Spring.