A 40-unit non-profit transitional housing project in Elmwood aimed at helping people who have experienced drug addiction, poverty or homelessness is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
Completion of Riverwood House couldn’t come soon enough, says project manager Jon Courtney, who has worked for the Riverwood Church Community, an Elmwood-based organization for more than 20 years and a senior development partner.
“Everyone we spoke with saw the direct impact of this pandemic,” Courtney said last week, as Westland Construction crews worked on the low-key housing project, which adjoins one of the buildings in the ‘church. The elements the project hopes to address – drug addiction, overdoses, unstable and unsafe housing, poverty, lack of affordability – have each intensified throughout the 17 months of the pandemic.
“All the gaps that already existed have widened,” he added. “The vulnerability that people have experienced before seems to have been pushed even further, and it feels like we are emerging from this pandemic with a much greater need.”
When the project and its required rezoning received city approval in January 2020, it was already clear, Courtney said, that the need for more transitional housing and social support was urgent and, in many ways, a question of moral responsibility.
The project was launched with this concept in mind: a group called Winnipeg Supportive Housing Inc., raised nearly $ 1 million in November 2019, when the civilian-run nonprofit collapsed. associated with the church as part of a fundraising campaign.
“The most important result will be that people learn, grow, find meaning in life and contribute to society again,” said group chairman Don Kroeker at the launch of the campaign.
Since then, around $ 6 million has been raised to cover the incidental and fixed costs of the project, Courtney said, with multiple grants and government support to cover the $ 7.8 million needed to cover the total costs of the project. . In November, the Winnipeg Foundation provided $ 500,000 for the project. The federal government announced in June an allocation of about $ 5 million through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s National Housing Co-Investment Fund to support development, half of which takes the lead. form of a forgivable loan.
When complete, the building designed by Sputnik Architecture will feature 40 micro-suites where community members can live independently, as well as a variety of shared living rooms, community spaces, bookable family rooms and programming areas. . All units will have full bathrooms, as well as a modest food preparation area.
Case managers and social workers will be on hand, Courtney said, with each member of the community developing a unique recovery plan focused on long-term success. One partner in the project is Finding Freedom, a recovery program that treats addiction as a serious problem while understanding “that they are, more specifically, symptoms of even deeper problems” such as complex trauma.
While the project is focused on sobriety, Courtney said it is understood that recovery and addiction are complex and that for many trying to achieve sobriety, relapse is an oft-lived reality. “We understand that it is not always a clear path,” he said.
The residency criteria are not fixed, but generally speaking, Courtney said that people who wish to live independently and have progressed through some sort of treatment program will likely complete the units, while acknowledging that a sober life is an environment that will contribute to personal success. . He said the partners were working with local organizations and counselors to develop meaningful admission assessments.
In developing her programming, Courtney said project partners consulted with local organizations such as the Manitoba Addictions Foundation, the Siloam Mission and the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association, among others. “It was an amazing thing to see how everyone shared their learnings with us,” he said.
Although the development straddles the neighborhoods of Elmwood and Chalmers, Courtney said people outside those areas would be welcome once complete, with the initial move slated for early 2022.
According to the 2018 Winnipeg Street Census, the most recent conducted, more than 1,500 Winnipeg residents have experienced homelessness. Census respondents identified a number of reasons (family breakdown, deportation, income issues, medical and mental health issues) for their first experience of homelessness, and one of the most common was substance abuse or substance addiction.
Respondents could identify several contributing factors. About half of those surveyed had been placed in child and family care, and 62.4% experienced homelessness within one year of leaving.
Since the start of the pandemic, the root causes of homelessness and substance abuse have been exacerbated, and Courtney said unstable housing is often one of the main determinants of whether individuals can recover and achieve their personal goals. sobriety or long-term independent living.
Too often, living conditions are dangerous, substandard or unaffordable. To address this issue, people living at Riverwood House will benefit from affordable rates based on EIA coverage. Twenty-one units will pay a fixed rent of $ 555 per month, or 80% of CMHC’s mid-market rate, and the remaining 19 units will be available at the EIA Affordable Housing Program rate. All eligible participants will have affordable access, with the EIA and the Canada-Manitoba Housing Benefit covering housing costs, Courtney said.
Courtney said that unlike the response to some similar housing or reclamation developments, there has been no opposition to Riverwood House, at least not strong enough to register.
“We have had nothing but support and all of our immediate neighbors are enthusiastic,” he said.
Prior to the start of work on the property, the future housing development site at the corner of Talbot Avenue and Stadacona Street had been a “rubber heap” for two years, the result of a rooming house fire that failed. has never been cleaned.
“This is seen as a positive step for our community,” he said.