The Region of Waterloo is trying out dormitory-style shelters and more tiny home communities to help provide shelter for the homeless community.

The region hopes the new plan will help put a major dent in chronic homelessness in the area.

According to experts, many don't like the current system with cramped emergency shelters.

The tiny homes and dorms offer greater privacy, security and dignity.

For some, the new housing style has been a life-saver.

"When we say dormitory-style housing, what we're really talking about is moving from the traditional model of trying to put as many people into one space as possible to more individualized spaces," said Ryan Pettipiere, the region's director of housing.

The system offers one room for one person. Shelters had to adapt the model due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's had significant upsides for managing mental health and substance abuse.

"Having your own space and a place to breathe leads to positive overall well-being outcomes," Pettipiere said. "We've seen tremendous benefit of this approach, both in terms of COVID and with general health and well-being outcomes since moving to that method."

The region is now looking at two properties with at least 80 rooms each, with up to 200 total spaces.

Another new development is the official endorsement of alternative housing, like at the tiny house community called A Better Tent City that's operating at Lot 42 in Kitchener.

"The idea behind this as a solution came when we realized there's a number of people who either can't or won't use the shelter system," volunteer Jeff Willmer said. "There's all kinds of different reasons for that and we thought there's another solution that's needed."

The volunteers at A Better Tent City said communities like it help people get back on their feet and help them take on the responsibility of a more stable life.

“This is a really good transitional step towards helping people learn some of the basics about how to look after themselves and how to be a good neighbour to others,” said Willmer

The region is focused on finding surplus land to create surplus communities to give people another chance.

"It's been huge," resident Rick King said. "I had my head stuck in the sand for a couple years, but there's nothing I want more than to get my life back together."