Riverwood House providing solid basis for hope

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Sometimes, a community project comes at exactly the right time. The Riverwood House project, an initiative of the Riverwood Church in Elmwood and Winnipeg Supportive Housing, Inc., is set to play an important role in helping people deal with addictions in the pandemic and beyond, providing a solid basis for hope.

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Sometimes, a community project comes at exactly the right time. The Riverwood House project, an initiative of the Riverwood Church in Elmwood and Winnipeg Supportive Housing, Inc., is set to play an important role in helping people deal with addictions in the pandemic and beyond, providing a solid basis for hope.

The idea for Riverwood House came into being even before the pandemic turned people’s lives upside down. Riverwood Church, a group of seven communities meeting in various locations in the Talbot Avenue area, states on its website that the church “is about moving people’s lives forward.” That includes dealing with some of the issues that they face in their daily lives.

Shelter can be a difficulty for many people. According to Jon Courtney, community pastor for Riverwood, “housing is always a prominent issue” in the Elmwood area. Riverwood House helps to address that problem with a 40-unit apartment building, known as Riverwood House, at the corner of Talbot Avenue and Stadacona Street, now open for occupation.

SUPPLIED A rendering of the Riverwood House, a supportive-housing complex in Elmwood.

However, Riverwood House is more than just an apartment block. In addition to providing much-needed housing for people, the building is designated, according to its website, as a “Recovery Housing complex taking aim at addictions, poverty, and homelessness through a safe, stable and supportive environment for Winnipeg’s at-risk population.”

Riverwood House, functioning in partnership with Winnipeg Supportive Housing Inc., is intended to meet multiple needs with a focus on addictions recovery. All of the units are bachelor apartments with facilities for cooking, reflecting the need for people to deal with addictions away from the temptations and struggles of their ordinary lives.

Jon Courtney notes that the facility is intended to “respond to gaps in addiction recovery.” Many of these gaps are obvious, while others are more subtle. Sometimes, the gap can be very small, just requiring a minor adjustment to a routine or an extra hour dedicated to caring for a person’s needs. Other gaps can be too wide to fill easily, but they all need attention.

The past two years of the pandemic have shown that the gaps in addictions recovery have only grown wider as programs to address people’s needs have been limited or suspended entirely. According to Stephanie Cram, in her April 9 CBC article, 2021 set a new record as the deadliest year ever for addicts, with 407 people dying of drug overdoses in Manitoba that year, up from 372 the previous year.

According to the article, the main causes of the jump in deaths were a toxic supply of drugs, combined with the effects of the pandemic. The toxic supply came from dealers who supplemented a diminished supply with deadly mixtures of drugs. People might take their normal dose without realizing that it had become toxic. Meanwhile, many of the support programs that people depended on for help were closed down or greatly reduced because of the pandemic.

Drug addictions have long been a problem in Winnipeg, leading to many other problems; a July 2018 CBC article by Sarah Petz notes the close connection between drugs and crime in the city. Dealing with crime, homelessness, and many other problems should include working to end drug addictions, or at least to alleviate the problem.

That is where Riverwood House can help. The “safe, stable, and supportive” environment that the church’s website mentions can give people a chance to turn their lives around, making a few readjustments that can move them in the right direction. It provides a chance to live in a community of recovering addicts who understand what others are experiencing. This, together with the support of on-site staff who will be able to provide professional assistance, will give residents of Riverwood House a good chance to recover.

While Riverwood House cannot solve all of the problems that drug addictions can cause, the project can give hope to people who are struggling. Having the support of a church community will give the initiative a firm grounding that will help it to continue to serve people in need.

The project aligns well with the church’s goal of moving people forward. Caring for people in need is a core Biblical value, as stated in passages including Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25. Faith communities might not be able to right every injustice or feed every hungry person, but they can do their best to reach out to people in practical ways.

The recent Home Suite Home initiative was an example of a practical method of helping people in need. Members of the church and the community helped to supply furniture, dishes, and other necessities of life for the new apartments. The project received full funding within two weeks, as the website notes, indicating strong support for the project.

As the new residents move into Riverwood House, the local congregations will likely find new ways of meeting people’s needs. This new initiative could make a significant difference in alleviating problems in Elmwood and beyond.

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