ONTARIO – Plans to create housing for Ontario’s homeless population moved a step closer last week when the Ontario City Council decided to lease city property to Origins Faith Community.
Officials plan to place 15 to 20 tiny homes, each 8-by-10 foot, at the location between Northeast 4th Avenue and Northeast 3rd Avenue off North Oregon Street. The homes can accommodate one or two people, said Adam Brown, Ontario city manager.
The council decision was the culmination of a cooperative effort between the city, Community in Action and Origins Faith Community to help the growing homeless population in Ontario.
The tiny homes will be part of a six-month trial, said Brown. After six months, said Brown, the city would “evaluate it and see if there are things we should be doing different.”
Plans call for Community in Action to use $150,000 in state grant funds to buy the tiny homes.
The council vote was a good, first step forward, said James Vogt, pastor of Origins Faith Community.
“It kind of cleared the way for the grant money to be released,” he said.
Vogt said, though, all three stakeholders still must resolve questions about the project.
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“We have to work on the details on the license and still work on clarity on that, but we needed to take this step to keep the process moving forward,” said Vogt.
The city plans to lease the property to Origins Faith Community for $1.
Community in Action will also provide portable toilets at the site, said Barb Higinbotham, executive director.
The tiny homes, said Higinbotham, are “very basic.”
“They will have insulation and heat and lights and electricity and a cot. And we have bedding and that type of thing available,” said Higinbotham.
Higinbotham said Community in Action plans to buy the tiny homes locally.
Brown said the grant money will be used not only to buy the tiny homes but also to provide services – such as power and security equipment – and pay for a manager at the site.
The manager will “make sure there is no illegal activity. There will be rules that have to be enforced,” Brown said.
Community in Action is working on a final budget for the project while also crafting regulations and a screening process.
Vogt said the property for the tiny homes answers some short-term questions. However, he said, a future solution should hinge on a larger cooperative effort.
Future funding will depend on whether Community in Action can obtain more grants next year.
The number of homeless locally fluctuates but Brown believes there are about 200 homeless people in the local area. Higinbotham said based on a count last January, 172 people were homeless.
“That count isn’t necessarily all of our homeless,” said Higinbotham.
Vogt said those numbers do not mean there are “200 people that need these facilities because they are homeless.”
“I don’t think the number of people needing our facility is actually that high. There may be truth in if we can get 20 and it is full right off the bat. Then again, you just don’t know,” said Vogt.
Vogt said some homeless may move quickly to take advantage of the tiny homes.
“And there are others that would say ‘no thanks,’” said Vogt. “That’s one of the things about a pilot program. You just don’t know.”
The tiny home site will be near Nichols Accounting on North Oregon Street. The business expressed fears of “concentrated poverty, the presence of drugs, and the fact that their offices are open all day and night during tax season which coincides with the time of the shelter use,” according to city documents.
Doug Lamm, a certified public accountant with Nichols Accounting, said his firm didn’t agree with the council’s decision but will “do our best to make it work for everyone.”
Lamm said Origins Faith Community and Community in Action reached out to Nichols Accounting early to gather feedback on the tiny house project.
“We are not thrilled but we, at the same time, believe in the people who are involved and we will be supportive,” said Lamm.
Lamm said Nichols Accounting employees were concerned about the tiny house facility being close to the office.
“I feel bad (for the homeless) but at the same time we have to be concerned about our own staff and client safety and our property,” said Lamm.
Lamm said Nichols Accounting would stay engaged in the process.
“Frankly, they’ve been up front with us the whole time. I trust the people who will be driving it will involve us. I think we have a good group of people finding a way through the dust and fog we are in right now,” said Lamm.
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