Y.O.U. announces $1 million gift from family of Joan Smith for planned downtown London housing complex

A rendering of the upcoming building at Richmond and York streets. Youth Opportunities Unlimited

A planned housing complex for youth, expectant teen mothers, young mothers, and babies in London’s downtown core is $1 million closer to reality thanks to a generous gift from the family of Joan Smith, the province’s first female solicitor-general.

The local non-profit charity, Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.), announced Tuesday it will be the recipient of a $1 million gift from the children of the former politician and social justice advocate, and Don Smith, co-founder of the EllisDon construction services company. The $1 million gift will be matched by the family, Y.O.U. said.

The gift, they said, is in honour of their mother, a long-time advocate for social policy change, who passed away last year at the age of 88. Smith established Madame Vanier Children’s Services in 1965 and helped change legislation concerning gay rights and police conduct during her tenure as solicitor-general from 1987 to 1989.

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In addition to her time as solicitor-general, Smith served in London municipal politics for nearly a decade beginning in 1976 and represented the provincial riding of London South as a Liberal MPP from 1985 to 1990.

“From an early age, she recognized her own good fortune and made a commitment to helping the most vulnerable in this province, in particular women and children,” said Smith’s daughter, Lynne Cram, in a statement. “She would be proud to see us support a centre that will carry on her legacy and benefit a new generation of young mothers and their babies.”

The complex will be comprised of 329, 331, and 333 Richmond Street. Google

The gift will go toward the financing of Y.O.U.’s planned 40-plus unit affordable supporting housing complex project ‘The New Addition,’ located at York and Richmond Streets in the downtown core, across the street from the organization’s Cornerstone headquarters.

The project, announced last year with a campaign fundraising goal of $8 million, will see three buildings along Richmond Street, 329, 331, and 333, retrofitted into one-bedroom, accessible one-bedroom, and two-bedroom self-contained units, designed to serve single youth, single young mothers with children, and single young expectant mothers at risk of homelessness and in need of affordable housing, according to the non-profit.

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The housing complex will be named the Joan Smith Building for Youth.

“It will provide safe and affordable homes and act as an integrated program hub focused on physical and mental health, employment, education, and training,” read a Y.O.U. press release.

In addition to housing, the complex will also see space for Y.O.U. programming, with the non-profit’s administrative offices to be housed on the ground floor. The campaign has reached about 30 per cent of its $8-million goal.

The property has sat largely vacant for several years and has previously been home to a series of bars and, at one time, a movie theatre.

– With files from Matthew Trevithick

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