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House of Friendship's new Waterloo shelter now expecting to open this fall

'It’s progressing, there's lots of work being done'

Homelessness has become a complex and challenging issue for the region. 

Many different things contribute to why one becomes displaced, from mental health issues to drug or substance abuse. ShelterCare was created by House of Friendship to help not only get people off the ground and into a bed, but get them the help they need so they can recover. 

The region has been actively supporting ShelterCare through $570,000 in annual capital financing towards the mortgage and renovation costs for House of Friendship’s new facility. This along with the region's role in providing a region wide emergency shelter network are helping to address the local homelessness crisis. 

John Neufeld, executive director for House of Friendship said they are aiming to have their new facility, a converted Comfort Inn in Waterloo, completed and ready for occupancy this fall. But supply shortages and inflation have slowed the process. 

“It’s progressing, there's lots of work being done. There are construction delays, there are supply chain issues, so we're dealing with all that the best we can.”

The facility will give 100 men experiencing homelessness a place to stay and receive support 24/7. 

A full medical clinic on site will provide primary health care as well as services and treatments residents need. Neufeld mentioned they thought it would be more beneficial for program participants to access housing, medical and any other services they need under one roof, instead of seeking all those services independently.

“The traditional model for decades has just been to provide bed and food, where the ShelterCare model is different is it tries to deal with those effects of substance issues and move people out of homelessness to housing.”

ShelterCare is a model Neufeld mentioned similar to what the Bridges in Cambridge is already doing, such as helping find people long term housing and helping with mental health or drug related issues.

Around $8.5 million in capital funding was given to secure the new facility at 190 Weber St. N in Waterloo last year by the Province of Ontario. The KW Community Foundation gave them a $2.5 million social finance loan. 

“Housing and homelessness are important priorities for our community,” said Regional Chair Karen Redman in a release. “As we address these complex challenges, we are grateful to have a number of innovative partners throughout the region like the House of Friendship.”

“We Look forward to the opening of the new facility and the impact it will have on our residents.”

ShelterCare is unlikely to help everyone, but it can make a significant difference to those that come through the front doors, said Neufeld.

They hope when the new facility opens the region will start to see a decrease in the amount of people sleeping on the streets.

He noted that the needs and challenges of those experiencing homelessness or living in encampments are very diverse, but the biggest issue comes from what the synthetic drugs are being laced with on the streets. 

“The challenges in today’s context are very significant , the synthetic drugs on our street are deadly and so we need to do things differently today than we did 5 or 10 years ago,” said Neufeld.

“The complexity of their condition creates so many other barriers. The synthetic drugs on the streets are very potent and affect people’s health more so than it did in the past.”

The health clinic on site will give participants access to nurses, medical professionals, harm reduction specialists, addiction treatment workers, and mental health workers right at their door. 

Other renovations now underway for the new facility include making the entire first floor accessible, including converting 20 per cent of the participant rooms to barrier-free. 

They are also designing areas for medical isolation and putting in safety features to help keep staff, participants and neighbours safe. They are improving the fencing, adding outdoor private gathering areas and bike storage. 

Until renovations are completed in the fall, House of Friendship is providing transitional housing services at its former shelter location on Charles Street in Kitchener. 

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Justine Fraser

About the Author: Justine Fraser

Justine joined CambridgeToday in March of 2022 as a social issues reporter. She enjoys living in the city (and walking her giant white dog!). A camera is never far from her hand.
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