KITCHEN, Ont. – Fifty people who used to be homeless now live in tiny cabins on an industrial lot in Kitchener, Ontario. A Better Tent City residents have a separate home, on-site dining, and access to restrooms and laundry facilities. Here’s what some have to say about living in the community:
Bree Cooper, 28
I was homeless in Kitchener and I met someone who had been living here and heard that I was new to town and homeless and brought me here.
Either I was on the street or some nights I would sit on the couch with the people I knew. That roof over your head gives you a sense of stability and gives you some relief from being truly homeless.
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It’s almost like a big dysfunctional family here. We help each other.
I feel safer in cabins than in tents. You can lock your things. If you have an altercation, you can go in and they won’t bother you.
Freedom is better here, you don’t have to come back at a certain time, you don’t get kicked out easily here, and you don’t lose your home because of a bad argument.
Tim Well, 32
I lost my home, I was imprisoned for 15 months. I lost everything. A couple of weeks after leaving, I met Bree and she invited me here.
We were stuck out of town for a couple of days and we got back to testing the streets. Our friend disappeared, then we were robbed. We spent some time outside at night. We took a taxi back, it was $ 70.
I have been homeless on and off since I was 14 years old. They fired me. I spent some time in shelters.
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It’s a great place, honestly. We tend to stick together. Food, showers, laundry and toilets. You can’t ask for much more than that, really.
Sometimes we eat steak!
Ralph Mardian, 58
They kicked me out of my house, Diana and I. We couldn’t find a place.
He was using drugs and others came and came to a trap house. The city got tired of it, closed the place, everyone had to leave. We were away for about a month, but it was a difficult month.
It is very difficult to get a place. I have a back condition and I cannot work. I can’t get a luxury condo. It’s comfortable, it’s a bit small, but you manage. It is a good thing, better than living on the street or in a shelter.
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You can make any decision you want here as long as it doesn’t harm your community. Teach the community to be proud of their home. I like it. It is much lonelier in an apartment. I don’t have a family, right. I consider my friends here as my family.
David Fitzpatrick, 32
I was on the street for months, sleeping in churches, stairs, benches, everywhere. He was married, had three children, two dogs, I was with the same woman for nine years and we separated.
Life hit hard, I got depressed, I jettisoned my business, a roofing company.
When you lose someone you love and all of your children, it hits you. I went through a suicidal phase, a phase of depression.
Sometimes I still get depressed, but I got a lot of support. It needed to grow. They kicked me out, he put my boots on hard, I deserved it.
If I ever have a crisis moment and I’m upset and crying, someone will always sit down and talk to me and tell me that I’m okay. It is much less lonely.
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Richard King, 55
I’ve been here the whole time, almost two years. It has its rough spots and its good spots. I was in a shelter for a while, I had a problem with the tenants, there were a lot of drugs there, so I got out of there.
The good here: it keeps you off the street. There’s nothing like having to sleep on a park bench or get into a car for a night’s sleep. I’ve been there and done it all in the last 10 years.
He had a general contracting and renovation business. But when my wife left me, that was the end of my life, I gave up and put my head in the sand.
I’m slowly putting it back together.
Here you are a person. I feel very good now, I was very into drugs. Opioids, heroin and then he got into fentanyl and pills, crystal, anything and everything.
I am taking methadone now. It is going well, it has helped a lot. Many friends of mine have died from fentanyl. It’s numbing, you can’t understand it. It is killing everyone. It’s time to wake up.
These interviews have been condensed for clarity.
© 2021 The Canadian Press