KITCHENER, Ont. — Fifty people who used to be homeless now live in small cabins on an industrial lot in Kitchener, Ont. The residents of A Better Tent City have an independent home, meals on site and access to washrooms and laundry facilities. Here's what some have to say about living in the community:
Bree Cooper, 28
I was homeless in Kitchener and met someone who had been living here who heard I was new to the city and homeless and he brought me here.
I was either on the streets or some nights I'd couch surf with people I met. That roof over your head gives you a sense of stability and it gives you some relief of being truly homeless.
It's almost like a big dysfunctional family here. We help each other out.
I feel safer having the cabins than being in the tents. You can lock your stuff in. If you’re having an altercation, you can just go inside and they won't bother you.
The freedom is better here, you don't have to be back by a certain time, you're not kicked out easily here and you don't lose your home cause of a bad argument.
Tim Wel, 32
I lost my house – I was incarcerated for 15 months. I lost everything. A couple of weeks after I got out, I met Bree and she invited me here.
We were stuck out of town for a couple of days and got a taste of the streets again. Our friend disappeared, then we got robbed. We spent some time at night outside. We took a cab back, it cost $70.
I've been homeless on and off since I was 14. I got kicked out. I spent some time in shelters.
It's a great place, honestly. We tend to stick together. Food, showers, laundry and the bathrooms. Can't ask for much more than that, really.
Sometimes we get steak!
Ralph Mardian, 58
I was kicked out from my house, me and Diana. We couldn't find a place.
I was doing drugs and others came and a made it into a trap house. The city got sick of it, closed the place down, everyone had to be out. We were outside about a month, but it was a hard month.
It's very hard to get a place. I have a back condition and can't work. I can't get a luxury condo. It’s comfortable, it's a little small, but you make do. It's a good thing, better than living on the street or in a shelter.
You can make any decision you want here, as long as you don't hurt your community. It teaches the community to be proud of their home. I like it. It's much more lonely in an apartment. I don't have any family, right. I consider my friends here my family.
David Fitzpatrick, 32
I was on the street for months, sleeping in churches, stairwells, benches, everywhere. I was married, had three kids, two dogs, was with the same woman for nine years and we split.
Life hit hard, I got depressed, threw away my business, a roofing company.
When you lose someone you love and all your children, it hits. I went through a suicidal phase, a depression stage.
I still get depressed sometimes, but I got a lot of support. I needed to kind of grow up. I was kicked out, she put the boots to me hard, I deserved it.
If I ever have a breakdown moment and I'm all contrarian and crying, someone will always sit and talk with me, and tell me I'm good. It's way less lonely.
Richard King, 55
I've been here the entire time, nearly two years. It has its rough spots and its good spots. I was in a shelter for a while, had a problem with the tenants, lots of drugs there, so I got the hell out of there.
The good here: it keeps you off the street. There's nothing like having to sleep on a park bench or bust into a car to get a night's sleep. I’ve been there and done it all in the past 10 years.
I had a renovation and general contracting business. But when my wife left me, that was the end of life, I gave up and put my head in the sand.
I'm slowly putting it back together.
Here you're a person. I’m feeling great now, I was hard into the drugs. Opioids, heroin and then got into the fentanyl and pills, crystal, anything and everything.
I'm on methadone now. It's going well, it has helped big time. A lot of friends of mine have died from fentanyl. It's numbing, you can't wrap your head around it. It's wiping everyone out. It's time to wake up.
These interviews have been condensed for clarity.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2021.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press