Community members gathered to work on building a house out of sandbags in the encampment at 100 Victoria St. North in Kitchener on Saturday, Jan. 13. Fightback KW, a group focused on homelessness and poverty in the region, and Don Lacasse organized the initiative.
The Region of Waterloo is during a housing crisis, and activists say people need immediate shelters built—especially shelters that don’t burn—to keep people warm and safe in the winter. Lacasse also highlighted that the low cost of materials was a factor in deciding to use sandbags.
“There’s a real need for fire resistant, insulated shelters,” wren wombwell, a member of Fightback KW, said. “We’re seeing massive injuries and death with fires and… [people] freezing.”
“My main idea was to have a structure that doesn’t burn…It’s cold and people need to get warm,” Lacasse said. “[They] can’t as much as light a candle.”
Despite sub-zero temperatures and snowy conditions, Lacasse said more than 30 community members contributed throughout the first build day.
While one group filled bags with sand, another was tying off the bags. Those bags were then built up onto walls with railway ties at the ends of the walls.
“It was our first call out, and all the sand got bagged. We’re getting another batch of sand delivered,” Lacasse said.
Community members volunteered and donated to the project, which organizers say has been funded completely out of pocket.
“There was a massive expression of community support,” one organizer said.
They say the community is usually supportive when they offer something concrete to help people who are unhoused.
Lacasse said he hopes to show that sandbag houses can act as an immediate, temporary solution to the housing crisis in Kitchener until enough permanent housing can be built to house everyone. The current wait time for affordable housing in the region’s housing program is 13 years.
“If someone’s living in it, taking care of it, it should last 10 years or so,” Lacasse said.
Lacasse is also involved in Waterloo Region’s Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. He is interviewing people experiencing homelessness on behalf of the region as part of that work.
There’s no set timeline for the project, but Lacasse is optimistic. He said a crew of 8 to 12 people could build a house in three or four days.
“Everyone deserves housing. Right now, they’re living day by day and their addiction is what keeps them going. Nobody can begin to heal if they’re worrying about where they’re going to get a meal the next day,” Lacasse said.