A group of three spearheaded by the manager of the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy pitched a harm reduction housing concept to the Council planning meeting on Monday, after-which councillors unanimously voted to direct staff to work with the group to figure out next steps in order for the initiative to come to fruition.

The group is asking for the city to contribute $250,000 and give direction on how to move ahead with their plan. Deputy CAO Scott Stewart said staff wants to help the group find answers but cautioned that, though it was an interesting concept, “it might not fit here.”

The concept would utilize tiny homes — retrofitted shipping containers — to create a “tiny town” priced at an affordable rate that those receiving a homelessness allowance would be able to afford, directly pulled from their social assistance. The Ontario Works housing allowance is current $390 a month.

They could be built quickly, an attached report says. WDGS would need the money from the city to match funds given by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, assistance in finding a partner, a review of the tender and help from city hall in finding an appropriate location.

WGDS manager Adrienne Crowder said that the tiny home lot would provide a space for people to live, something critical to those looking to get back on their feet in society. There are about 160 homeless people in the city, she added.

Karen Lomax, an outreach prevention coordinator, said that housing, along with supports from Stonehenge, was critical to her recovery as an addict because it provided a home to go back to and stability in her life.

Though there are other tiny home housing projects, Crowder said in response to a question from Coun. June Hofland that she does not know of any harm reduction-focused initiatives in affordable housing.

Asked for his comment from Hofland, Coun. Bob Bell said that homelessness “has a cure”, which is giving people homes, but the challenge, he said, was “how”. He noted that Council worked through most of the mayor’s homelessness task force but did not get to creating homes.

Crowder and Coun. Bell have been working together since 2018 to bring the shipping container home concept about. A concept of the tiny home was opened to the public on the grounds of Bell’s Wike Bicycle Company in May.

The Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Guelph Community Health Centre, HOPE House, Sanguen Health Centre, Wyndham House, Stonehenge Therapeutic Community, Welcome In Drop In Centre and the Guelph Wellington Poverty Task Force were all listed as supporting correspondence.

Though Coun. Rodrigo Goller asked staff to return with recommendations in 60 days, the deputy chief administrative officer Stewart said that it would likely be too tight of a timeline. Instead, Council voted in favour of staff returning with recommendations as soon as possible.