Conestoga hut draws attention

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Members of the Wagon Wheel Housing Society were excited to share their first conestoga micro-shelter unit with the public last week. 

The structure was on display at the Country Grocer parking lot and then on the side of Lower Ganges Road near Rainbow Road for a few days.

Modelled on the covered wagons that were hauled across North America when the west was settled over 100 years ago, a 21st-century version is being used in the western United States to provide shelter to homeless people. Local society member Kylie Coates took the lead on building Salt Spring’s first unit after learning about the U.S. efforts that originated in Eugene, Ore. 

“They’ve kind of built little communities of these in Eugene,” said Coates.

Some are on city-owned property while church groups have provided space for others.

Last December Coates contacted the Eugene organization to acquire plans for the hut. COVID-19 isolation time then gave him an opportunity to concentrate on building one, with some help from other society members. The unit cost approximately $2,000 for materials, which is much less than a tiny home. Coates used 2X6 and 2X4 spruce boards for the framing and flooring. The structure is covered in a heavy-duty tarp, a rubber roofing product and silver bubble wrap. 

There’s enough room inside for a bed, table, chair and for a person’s belongings to be stored, and a small covered outdoor seating area. A locking door provides security.

“It’s under 100 square feet and totally portable,” he said.

Coates modified the prototype by installing a metal door instead of a wooden one and including a window that can be opened. Wagon Wheel Housing Society member Elaine Hunt added colour and more character with paint.

“We can make it look nice and deal with the housing crisis at the same time,” said Coates.

He said the main reason he undertook the project was to start a conversation with the island about potential housing solutions. 

The Wagon Wheel Housing Society has long advocated for a project that would see several individual sleeping units set up with communal cooking and hygiene facilities on site. 

The society is open to feedback about the conestoga wagons and could be willing to build more for purchase. They can be contacted through their website: dosomegood.ca/organization/wagon-wheel-housing-society-3173966.

“There were a couple of people who want to donate huts but there is still no place to put them,” Coates said.

He added that the society would like to run a pilot project with a few of the units on some land owned by the Capital Regional District on Salt Spring. 

“We have to make sure they work in our environment,” he said.

Coates urges people interested in seeing the conestoga huts used in some fashion on Salt Spring to contact the Capital Region Housing Corporation in Victoria. 

People in other Vancouver Island jurisdictions, including Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, have also expressed interest in the concept. 

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