WestEnd Commons: A Place to Call “Home”

When does a roof over your head become a home? Some people say a home is a safe, secure, private, and good quality accommodation. Others go further, expressing that a home is a place where they can achieve dreams, build relationships, and get the support they need. One youth worker in Winnipeg says:

“Some of these kids… have an address, but it’s not a home for them… we had some kids sleeping in vans here, 40 below… slept in there for three days. They just didn’t want to go home, because all there is is alcohol and violence there.” (Jim Silver, “North End Winnipeg’s Lord Selkirk Park Housing Development”)

Facts on homelessness:

  • There are an estimated 1,500 – 2,000 homeless people living in Winnipeg. However, this data is a rough estimate that does not consider those living inextreme core housing need.
  • Extreme core housing need refers to a household paying more than 50% of their income on housing.
  • Data shows that almost 30,000 Winnipeggers are living in core housing need.
  • This need disproportionately affects renters, who make up approximately 30% of Canadians.
  • 18% of these renters are experiencing extreme affordability problems (almost 750,000 Canadiahomelessness2 (1)n households).
  • Approximately 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness on any given night.
  • Despite the growing number of homeless people, Canada still has “the smallest social housing sector of any Western nation except for the United States”.

Throughout Canada we’ve seen that “the private for-profit rental market does not come close to meeting the needs of low-income people, whose numbers… have grown over the past forty years” (Silver, Good Places to Live). Most inner-city renewal strategies, implemented in the name of neighbourhood ‘revitalization,’ have dislocated many poor people from “good neighbourhoods to be poor in.”  This type of development simply increases the need for affordable housing in Winnipeg.
WestEnd Commons
After operating a Neighbourhood Resource Centre (NRC) in the lower level of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church for forty years, WestEndCommons (1) (1)church leaders knew more needed to be done. Located in the heart of West Central Winnipeg, an area with limited affordable housing, St. Matthew’s was in a prime position to explore social housing options. In 2009, St. Matthew’s and Grain of Wheat Community Church incorporated St. Matthews Non Profit Housing Inc. These two churches then became tenants in the building, and The WestEnd Commons was created.
The NRC is an important feature of WestEnd Commons, providing supports for both the community and tenants. Research shows that without support systems located in close proximity to social housing, projects such as this are less likely to succeed.
Participatory decision-making is also crucial to any community economic development process. To make decisions and recommendations, WestEnd Commons had assistance from a Community Life Committee during the development. The Community Life Committee was designed to include community members who represented: newcomers, indigenous peoples, the local school, West Central Women’s Resource Centre, and local residents.
The WestEnd Commons has now transformed St. Matthew’s upper floors into 26 homes for families: single parent families, newcomers to Canada, First Nations families, people with mental health challenges, and others. The space has a 1,000 sq. foot atrium, 4 one-bedroom, 15 two-bedroom, 5 three-bedroom, and 2 four-bedroom apartments. On November 1, 2014 WestEnd Commons began welcoming families to their new homes.
Is it Worth it?
Despite the stigma, homelessness is often influenced most by physical factors such as lack of affordable housing, lack of necessary income, and discrimination in obtaining housing. Research confirms that even those considered ‘most entrenched’ in homelessness, even those with severe addiction and mental health issues, will generally stay housed and show improvements in overall well-being when offered proper supports.  At WestEnd Commons, we believe that all humans deserve the dignity of safe, affordable, and good quality housing; we are doing our best to provide this.
Katie Daman is a business student at Canadian Mennonite University interested in social enterprise. She is a volunteer and consultant with WestEnd Commons.
* The featured image for this article, shown on our homepage, is of a house near the WestEnd Commons, featured in the film, Life on Victor Street, produced by the National Film Board.

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