By Julie Ryan
In most towns across North America, it is no longer unusual to see people sleeping in doorways or living in tents along rivers or railways. Homelessness and a lack of affordable housing are at crisis levels, and London has seen a striking increase in people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Housing advocates estimate that there are between 200 and 300 people completely unsheltered, with hundreds more in shelters, hotels, and other temporary housing.
As part of their Advent focus in 2020 and 2021, parishes in the London Deanery donated $60,000 toward a permanent solution to end homelessness: affordable housing with supports.
“In 2019, the members of the London Deanery Council expressed a keen desire to work together as an Anglican Community and to make a positive impact in the Deanery,” said Rev. Canon Dr. Valerie Kenyon, Regional Dean. Inspired by Bishop Todd Townshend’s 2020 charge to the Synod, toward “renewal and new creation, better revealing the marks of mission by becoming: a learning church, a just church, a diverse church, a new church,” the Deanery churches acted. They made a commitment to Indwell, a Christian charity that creates supportive, affordable housing communities across Ontario.
“In a year where there had been so much negativity and darkness, in this season of preparation we sought to stand firm in the light of God’s Incarnational love, and declare to our community that we were here, we cared, and we wanted to make a difference,” Canon Val added.
Indwell’s model, based on Christian values of dignity, love and hope, offers affordable housing with supports to people who have struggled to maintain housing in the past, usually because of a mental health disability. Onsite supports, including nursing care, addictions counselling, food security, and apartment support help people attain housing stability, build skills, and find a sense of belonging. Throughout Ontario, Indwell supports over 700 people in London, St. Thomas, Woodstock, Simcoe, and Hamilton.
In London, Indwell has 66 apartments open in downtown London, and nearly 200 more deeply affordable units under development. The Deanery’s gift is supporting both Indwell’s active program and their construction of new housing.
Embassy Commons will open this year as Indwell’s second London program. The 72 unit building in London’s Old East Village will also have a non-profit bike co-op and a social enterprise restaurant as commercial tenants.
A third project in development is Vision SoHo. Indwell is partnering with five other non-profit housing developers to create over 650 mixed rent housing units at the former Victoria Hospital grounds on South Street. Indwell will develop the two remaining heritage buildings on the property, the Health Services building and the War Memorial Children’s Hospital, while Indwell’s partners will build five new buildings. In total, 150 market rent and 400 affordable rent units will be built.
The $60,000 gift was in response of the Deanery’s virtual Advent series in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, the Deanery invited Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber to share some of her experiences as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado.
“Wishing to not only hear of Rev. Bolz Weber’s experiences but to take some action ourselves locally, we also invited Indwell to share with us their work in the London community,” said Canon Val. “This provided us with an opportunity to not only discover how God was at work in the community around us, but to give us an opportunity to join God in that work.”
2021 offered another opportunity to give locally, as Bishop Todd and best-selling author Brian McLaren addressed a virtual audience in an Advent series called “Actively Waiting.”
“This gift demonstrates the love London Anglican churches have for their neighbours,” said Indwell’s CEO Jeff Neven. “We know that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but especially for those already living in poverty. When those who are able, give generously, we are witnessing God’s call ‘to love with action and in truth’.”
Julie Ryan is a member of St. James Westminster Church and Community Engagement Coordinator with Indwell.