Planned east London emergency youth shelter gets $3M funding boost from Ottawa

An architectural rendering of the shelter. Youth Opportunities Unlimited

The construction of a planned 30-bedroom emergency youth shelter in east London is receiving a major funding boost from the federal government to the tune of nearly $3 million.

The Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) Housing First Youth Shelter, set to be built on a 1.6-acre plot along Clarke Road just south of Oxford Street, will span approximately 10,000 to 13,000 square feet and contain 30 bedrooms for young adults aged 16 to 24.

YOU officials announced the $5 million project last June, and have been raising funds for its construction since. The city provided a portion of the funding required through London’s Homeless Prevention System, with fundraising making up the rest.

READ MORE: East London shelter to provide 30 beds for homeless youth

With Ottawa pitching in $2.9 million as part of its National Housing Co-Investment Fund, part of the larger National Housing Strategy, YOU will be able to get shovels in the ground and get construction underway, said Steve Cordes, YOU’s executive director.

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“To say that we’re excited actually doesn’t give credit to how we’re feeling about this,” Cordes said.

“We know there’s so many young people in this community that are facing crisis related to homelessness, and a shelter is an important stop along the way for some people in that it provides a safe roof over their heads.”

Another angle of the planned shelter. Youth Opportunities Unlimited

While a shelter is not a permanent home, Cordes said it acts as a “vital, safe landing place,” allowing those staying a spot to collect themselves and determine their housing and support needs.

“This is emergency housing for young people who are living in very vulnerable situations,” said Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, who was on hand for the announcement alongside Cordes, Mayor Ed Holder, councillors Shawn Lewis and Michael Van Holst, and local MPs Peter Fragiskatos, Irene Mathyssen, and Kate Young.

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READ MORE: Ottawa providing $4.9 million for downtown London affordable housing project

“The goal here is to get them into stable, safe, secure, and affordable housing immediately, and then to transition them into permanent housing that meets their needs and provides them with a good home.”

Those staying at the shelter would stay for a month on average, Vaughan said.

“As they’re stabilized into a regular apartment, what is hoped is we don’t create more chronic or more difficult circumstances in their lives,” he said. “[The shelter] allows them to be housed successfully on their own and move toward self-sufficiency.”

WATCH: Raising awareness about youth homelessness in Toronto (Feb. 13)

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Raising awareness about youth homelessness in Toronto

Cordes said they planned to begin construction on the shelter in June, and have it open, at the latest, by June 2020. Despite the federal government’s funding boost, he said YOU still has about $2 million left to raise to pay for the project.

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“We will continue on with our fundraising goals, we’ll continue on to see if we can close the gap… Even if we have to, we can go ahead with the project and finance the gap even if we have to through traditional financing options,” Cordes said, reluctantly.

“The more debt we carry in the building… the money that would otherwise go to programs and services would be going into servicing the debt.”

READ MORE: YOU’s New Addition project begins with renovations at downtown London building

In addition to the planned emergency youth shelter, YOU is also in the middle of construction on Phase 1 of its major New Addition project in downtown London.

Three properties near Richmond and York streets, just across the street from YOU’s Cornerstone building, are being transformed into a housing and support complex for youth, expectant teen mothers, young mothers, and babies.

That complex, announced in 2015 at a cost of $8 million, will include 37 affordable housing units and a youth wellness hub. Work on Phase 1 got underway in January, with Phase 2 set to begin at a later date.

On average, YOU serves 3,600 youth in London and Strathroy.

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