Riverwood House ready to rise and shine

New 40-unit complex aims to help with addictions, poverty and homelessness


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A 40-unit, non-profit, transitional housing project in Elmwood aiming to help people who’ve experienced addiction, poverty, or homelessness should be finished by the end of 2021.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/08/2021 (599 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 40-unit, non-profit, transitional housing project in Elmwood aiming to help people who’ve experienced addiction, poverty, or homelessness should be finished by the end of 2021.

Riverwood House’s completion couldn’t come soon enough, says project lead Jon Courtney, who works for the Riverwood Church Community, an organization that’s been based in Elmwood for more than 20 years and is a main partner in the development.

“Anybody we’ve been in conversation with has seen the direct impact of this pandemic,” Courtney said last week, as crews from Westland Construction worked on the sober housing project, which abuts one of the church’s buildings. The elements the project hopes to address — addiction, overdoses, unstable and unsafe housing, poverty, lack of affordability — have each intensified throughout the 17 months of the pandemic.

“All of the gaps that already existed have widened,” he added. “The vulnerability that people experienced before seems to have been pushed even further, and it feels like we’re emerging from this pandemic with a definite 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 pressing, and in many ways, a matter of moral responsibility.

The project was initiated with that concept in mind: a group called Winnipeg Supportive Housing Inc., raised nearly $1 million as of November 2019, when the civilian-led non-profit joined forces with the church on a capital campaign.

“The most important result will be people learning, growing, finding life meaningful and contributing again to society,” the group’s president, Don Kroeker, said at the campaign launch.

Since then, about $6 million has been raised toward the project’s soft and hard costs, Courtney said, with multiple grants and governmental support coming through to cover the $7.8 million required to cover the total project costs. In November, the Winnipeg Foundation granted $500,000 toward the project. The federal government announced in June an allocation of approximately $5 million through the Canada Mortgage Housing Corp.’s National Housing Co-Investment Fund to support the development, half of which comes in the form of a forgivable loan.

Once complete, the Sputnik Architecture-designed building will have 40 micro suites where community members can live independently, as well as a variety of shared lounges, community space, bookable family rooms, and programming areas. All units will have full bathrooms, along with a modest food-prep area.

Case managers and social workers will be on site, Courtney said, with each community member developing a unique recovery plan geared toward long-term success. A partner in the project is Finding Freedom, a recovery program that treats addiction as a serious problem while understanding “they are, more accurately, symptoms of even deeper problems” such as complex trauma.

While the project is centred on sobriety, Courtney said it’s understood that recovery and addiction are complex, and that for many trying to attain sobriety, relapse is a reality often experienced. “We understand it’s not always a clear path,” he said.

The criteria for residence is not fixed, but generally speaking, Courtney said individuals who want to live independently and have progressed through some sort of treatment programming will likely fill the units, while also acknowledging that sober living is an environment that will contribute to personal success. He said the partners are working with local organizations and advisers to develop sensible intake assessments.

In developing its programming, Courtney said the project partners consulted with local organizations such as the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, Siloam Mission, and the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association, among others. “It’s been an incredible thing to see how everyone has shared their learnings with us,” he said.

While the development straddles the Elmwood and Chalmers neighbourhoods, Courtney said individuals from outside those areas would be welcome to live there once complete, with initial move-in slated for early 2022.

According to the 2018 Winnipeg Street Census, the most recent one completed, more than 1,500 Winnipeg residents experienced homelessness. Respondents to the census identified a number of reasons (family breakdown, eviction, income issues, medical and mental health concerns) for their first experience of homelessness, and one of the most common was addiction or substance abuse.

Respondents could identify multiple contributing factors. About half of those surveyed had been in Child and Family Service care, and 62.4 per cent experienced homelessness within one year of leaving care.

Since the pandemic started, the root causes of homelessness and addiction have been exacerbated, and Courtney said that unstable housing is often one of the biggest determinants as to whether individuals can recover and reach personal goals for sobriety or long-term, independent living.

Too often, living situations are unsafe, substandard, or unaffordable. To address that, individuals living at Riverwood House will be set at affordable rates based on EIA coverage. Twenty-one units will pay a fixed rent of $555 per month, or 80 per cent of the CMHC median market rate, and the remaining 19 units will be available at the EIA affordable housing program rate. All qualifying participants will have affordable access, with the combined EIA and Canada-Manitoba Housing Benefit covering housing costs, Courtney said.

Courtney said that contrary to the response to some similar housing or recovery developments, there has been no opposition to Riverwood House, at least none that’s been loud enough to register.

“We’ve had nothing but support, and all of our immediate neighbours are enthusiastic,” he said.

Before work began on the property, the future site of the housing development at the corner of Talbot Avenue and Stadacona Street had been a “pile of rubber” for two years, the result of a rooming house fire that was never cleaned up.

“This is seen as a positive step for our community,” he said.


Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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