New London, Ont. hub looks to break down homelessness health care barriers

From left to right: Sister Margo Ritchie, a congregational leader with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Thames Valley Family Health Team executive director Mike McMahon, Regional HIV/AIDS Connection executive director Brian Lester and London Cares executive director Anne Armstrong. Andrew Graham / Global News

Officials are gearing up to launch a facility next week that aims to break down barriers for the London, Ont., homeless population through a new collaboration that embeds a health-care provider with local social services organizations.

It’s called the Community Hub and those leading its operation say its mission is to provide a place to belong for marginalized members in the community.

Located at 602 Queens Ave., the Hub will be run by London Cares Homeless Response Services (London Cares), the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) and the Thames Valley Family Health Team (TVFHT).

The Hub was born out of a renovation at 602 Queens Ave., a three-story, 38,000 sq. ft. building that was a church before it became an early home for Info-Tech Research Group.

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Last year, the Sisters of St. Joseph, RHAC and London Cares opened up St. Joe’s Café inside the building, which served meals for as low as $0.50 for those in need.

That work evolved into what the Hub has planned, but a $3 million retrofitting project was needed to make way for a new kitchen, an eating area, an elevator and a renovated communal meeting space.

The site of the Community Hub at 602 Queens Ave., which is set to open its doors on Monday. Andrew Graham / Global News

RHAC executive director Brian Lester says the renovation was paid for thanks to grants from the City of London and other sources such as the London Community Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

“I think it’s quite monumental that we’ve been able to come together with values-aligned partners, retrofitting a rather old building, investing in the old building, doing it through a pandemic when there were lots of supply chain issues, so it’s a significant accomplishment,” Lester said.

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Each partner brings something unique to the table at the Community Hub. In the RHAC’s case, it’s decades worth of outreach experience and expertise in the London area.

“I imagine our outreach staff and our case managers, who do work in the community and connect with the folks we serve, as they’re down here, they’re going to be down in this space supporting the London Cares core group to connect with and support folks in their wellness on the main floor,” Lester added.

What makes the Community Hub unique is the presence of the TVFHT, which will have a full-time staff member embedded with the folks inside.

It’s a new endeavour for the TVFHT and one that executive director Mike McMahon hopes will break down common barriers to primary health care faced by those experiencing homelessness.

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“Historically, family health teams, like Thames Valley, have been located at sites and worked with people based on a very specific location and people come to us,” McMahon said.

“Over the years, the communities have changed and primary care resources aren’t necessarily accessible at those historical locations, either because somebody’s moved, they’ve become alienated or they never actually arrived there in the first place.”

McMahon says TVFHT will provide “nurse practitioner services, nursing services and mental health services to start.” The added bonus will be access to primary health care through referrals given to clients on-site.

“A cook providing breakfast may decide that somebody should see a primary care provider and then they’d be able to get immediate access through an immediate referral,” McMahen added.

Most of the day-to-day operations at the facility will be handled by London Cares.

“We have a coordinator hired and three staff that are hired through London Cares to be able to manage the floor and help people as they come in,” said London Cares executive director Anne Armstrong.

Currently, the building is not zoned to allow for overnight resting spaces, but clients will still have access to daytime services such as showers, washrooms, meals and laundry machines.

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Armstrong says the Hub will start slowly, launching next week with a group of 10 clients. Armstrong expects there’ll be a high demand and says they will shift out the group of clients inside to make room for others.

The Community Hub will open its doors on Monday and has funding secured until Dec. 1.

In the meantime, the Hub will do what it can to show potential future funders that the facility is working.

“It is a bit of an approach of ‘build it and they will come,’ and we want to be able to demonstrate how effective we can be,” Armstrong said.

“We have full confidence in our team.”

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