Tiny homes offer a safe, hygienic and cheap solution to homelessness.
When it comes to addressing homelessness, the city supports strategies that put band-aids on broken bones. Saskatoon should prioritize long-term housing strategies over short-term emergency shelters.
In the 10 years that I have worked in the mental health and addictions sector as a support and case worker, I’ve learned that Saskatoon doesn’t have a concrete transitional program to bridge the gap from homelessness to long-term housing. Homeless individuals must apply through traditional methods for private or low-income housing, then wait. There are private agencies like the Lighthouse that have transitional programs, but they are limited in capacity.
Another issue is that people who face chronic homelessness are homeless for a reason. Many of them have mental health and addictions issues that make simple tasks like paperwork or housing searches more difficult.
These individuals don’t have the means to be approved for housing and require a case worker to aid them in the process. Once they find a place, it can be difficult for someone who has experienced long-term homelessness to to adjust to regular housing.
The solution is an interdisciplinary urban planning approach that combines policy with distribution of public services. This works to provide equitable housing outcomes. Tiny homes can be this solution.
Housing is expensive and, as mentioned, individuals experiencing homelesness face barriers to housing. Several cities in the United States like San Francisco, Austin and Eugene have developed strategies to house individuals that involve the building of tiny home villages.
One of the best examples of the success of tiny homes can be found in Seattle. The unsheltered homeless population in the city made up around 71 per cent of the county’s total, prompting Seattle to search for a unique solution. Now, the city has more than 10 tiny house villages, and approved 40 more in February.
These villages provide a hygienic, safe and private dwelling to begin integration back into society. They act as medium-term, transitional or long-term housing. The villages are often coupled with various social programs that ensure the individual has access to resources to aid in recovery.
This housing-first approach is several times cheaper than what the government currently spends on the homeless. A tiny home can be built for as little as $10,000. In comparison, a 2005 study comparing four Canadian cities estimated that it costs $66,000 to $120,000 per person per year for institutional responses to homelessness. Tiny homes are also compact and can be built measuring 250 square feet. This means in the same space needed to park ten cars, the city could house ten people.
If we instinctively reject tiny homes and cite them as being out of the ordinary or too hard to implement, we are being callous and lazy.
Canada in general lags behind other countries in terms of innovative long-term homeless strategies. The math suggests that tiny homes are cheaper and lower-impact than traditional housing. As well, research suggests they are an effective stepping stone to stability and reintegration into society.
So what’s the problem?
Political willpower is somewhat lacking here in Saskatoon. The sluggish bureaucratic operations of the city are slower moving than pond water. As citizens, we need to ask the city to consider unique and effective approaches to seemingly ancient problems.
It’s not too late and it’s not too hard. The issue of housing the homeless is a policy and urban planning problem as much as it is a social one. We have the tools to begin thinking about and dealing with the issue, we just need the guts to do it.
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a reply, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Adam Brown is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying regional and urban planning.