With the recent closure of the encampment at 150 Main St. in Galt, the region is re-examining the need for a new approach to offer housing to those experiencing homelessness.
While the open shelter concept on Erb's Road in Waterloo has proven to be a success to the region, there are no plans to bring the shelter to Cambridge until at least 2024.
"The hybrid outdoor shelter that we created on Erb's Road is something that we likely need more than one," said Peter Sweeney, commissioner of community services for the Region of Waterloo. "I think it's also safe to say that the next sort of obvious place for that would be in Cambridge."
Currently there is only one of these hybrid shelters that offer tiny homes to individuals in addition to running water, hydro hook-ups and bathrooms and showers.
Originally, in 2022 when the hybrid shelter idea was presented to regional council, Cambridge was on the list to get a open shelter in the city.
Surveys were conducted with the residents who at the time lived at 150 Main St. and over half of them said they would be open to moving to a sanctioned outdoor shelter space.
The Waterloo shelter became a pilot project for the region and allowed them to gauge its effectiveness and what could be improved.
Emma Horner, registered nurse with the Working Centre, operates at the shelter on Erb's Street as a support worker and service provider.
With the removal of the encampment in Cambridge, she thinks there needs to be one set up in Cambridge immediately.
"The thing is when they tell all of these people they need to leave 150 Main, where do they expect them to go," questioned Horner. "All this is going to do is drive people deeper into hiding and make it harder to access them and offer them potentially live saving care."
Horner adds that when she is at the Waterloo shelter, she can feel the community that these people have built and can see them start to work on themselves.
"There are many reasons why people won't go to an indoor shelter whether that be trauma, addiction or they're in a couple. No shelter will allow you to bring in all of your belongings, bunk with your partner or bring in any animals, so they chose to live rough."
Cambridge city councillor, Scott Hamilton supports building one of these shelters in the city and is confident it would be a huge benefit to Cambridge.
"We need more shelters, period. We need to get people off the street and into a shelter that's safe and secure," said Hamilton. "With this open shelter concept, the issues experienced at 150 Main St could be avoided."
The region says they are committed bringing this concept to Cambridge, but Sweeney admits there is no funding available until at least 2024. The region would also have to work with the City of Cambridge to find a suitable location for the shelter.
One thing Sweeney and his team have learned after opening the shelter and from feedback is location. Some of the criticism is how it's far from other services and kind of in the middle of nowhere.
"With all the feedback telling us that, it has still been full since day one," he added. "There are 50 people who currently live there who are in a better spot than they were before and who chose to move there despite the location."
Hamilton and Horner would both like to see the new shelter be built close to a downtown core area where it is central and allows for easy access.
The Cambridge city councillor is eager to see what location city staff would recommend so they can bring it to council and get the ball rolling.
"Location will be a very important step for us, and everything is open and on the table," said Sweeney.