Youth Opportunities Unlimited’s multi-million-dollar community project to construct a housing and support complex for youth, expectant teen mothers, young mothers, and babies in the downtown core is getting a big funding boost from three Canadian insurance companies.
Representatives from Great-West Life, London Life, and Canada Life were on hand at YOU’s Cornerstone Building headquarters at York and Richmond streets Friday morning for the funding announcement.
The three companies, all owned by Great-West Lifeco, are contributing $100,000 to YOU’s New Addition project, which will see three buildings along Richmond Street — 329, 331, and 333 Richmond streets, just across the street from YOU’s Cornerstone building — retrofitted into an affordable housing and support complex for youth in London, with a focus on young mothers and young families.
Altogether, the complex will include 37 affordable housing units and a youth wellness hub that will offer services and programs for young people, including mental health, addictions, employment, and training, under one roof, said Steve Cordes, the organization’s executive director.
“It’s been a long-term vision for us,” Cordes said. “We started looking at what can we do, and what should we do for YOU and then also our partners, particularly around young women and young families that are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.”
“Really, there are really few options for them. Safe housing for a family is very hard to find.”
The project was announced in 2015 and had a total campaign fundraising goal of $8 million.
“We own the building that used to be the old GT’s, and that’s going to be the place where all this happens,” Cordes said. “And then donors like London Life, Great-West Life coming forward and stepping up to the plate in the way that they have, builds momentum and, of course, starts filling the bank accounts so we can actually start building the building.”
Initial work on the complex is expected to begin later this year on renovating the four-storey property at 333 Richmond St., Cordes said. Once the project is complete, the open-air 329 Richmond St., the former site of several bars and at one point a movie theatre, will be home to a six-storey building, while the smaller 331 Richmond St. next door will be home to a five-storey building.
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Work constructing the five and six-storey buildings will, hopefully, start next year, depending on fundraising, Cordes said.
“The building itself is going to be transformative for affordable housing for youth, and again, particularly with a focus on young moms and young families,” he said.
For an example, Cordes pointed to YOU’s Cornerstone building, home to its offices, as well as 30 affordable housing units. Those units, he says, are tagged to Ontario Works’ maximum shelter allowance, meaning a one bedroom costs about $380 per month. Because of that, residents don’t have to dip into their food, clothing, or travel allowances to pay their rent.
Cordes called the planned two-floor youth wellness hub a “game changer” for the community, and something unique to Canada.
“We’re talking to partners in mental health, in addiction services, that offer a range of other supports for young people — programs that already exist in the city, but are in various pockets,” he said. “Sometimes the hospital has health care programs that are in the hospital that don’t physically need to be in the hospital. Could we look at a model where they’re out in the community? LHSC is very interested in that and has been talking to us for a couple years on that.”
The complex will be named after Joan Smith, the former politician and social justice advocate who passed away in 2016. Last October, Smith’s children donated $1 million to the project that was matched by the Smith family.
— With files from Matthew Trevithick and Liny Lamberink