By the end of next year, a new seven-storey building near the downtown core will be home to dozens of London youth who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
With the rising cost of living, more and more individuals and families are struggling to stay afloat.
“The demand for housing has just grown so tremendously in our community, unfortunately,” said Steve Cordes, CEO of Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). “There’s people experiencing homelessness that live in encampments, or that live in unsafe situations that we don’t see. Maybe they’re couch surfing, maybe they’re crashing with friends, maybe they’re compromising their own personal safety by staying in places that are just not safe - but, it’s a roof. There’s so much visible and invisible homelessness in this community and it's gotten worse.”
Back in September 2022, construction started at the northwest corner of Richmond Street and York Street. The soon-to-be safe haven for vulnerable youth will be named after Joan Smith, Ontario’s first female solicitor general who was “a champion for the underdog,” according to Cordes, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and establishing community agencies in London and Middlesex.
Joan's Place will have 39 deeply affordable housing units available to youth and young families who need them. The building will offer a total of 16 studio units, 15 one-bedrooms, and 8 two-bedrooms. More than half of these units will be fully accessible.
To maintain affordability, tenants' monthly rent will be no higher than 69% of the market rate for the area.
“There’s some wonderful families that just can’t afford to pay rent,” Cordes explained. “When they become homeless, families get separated, children get separated from their parents, and it becomes traumatic, and those traumas stay with people. We want to avoid that.”
Joan's Place will be more than just a place for youth and young families to rest their heads - the facility will offer a "wraparound model of care," providing housing, healthcare, parenting, mental health, education, employment, and training services all in the same place.
When developing the plan for Joan’s Place, Cordes says YOU held focus groups with youth and community partners in London to better understand the needs of their target demographic. Young people in the community expressed that there was a physical disconnect between local resources, and for many, transportation had become a barrier to accessibility. London youth also reported feeling intimidated or unwelcome in certain spaces.
With these issues in mind, the idea came about for a Youth Wellness Hub. Located on the first and second floors of Joan’s Place, the hub will offer a “one-door” approach to a variety of social services.
Through the Youth Wellness Hub, young people can experience an “ongoing and consistent level of care and warmth, and something that takes all the small barriers away from people,” according to Cordes.
Joan’s Place will also feature a Youth Justice Centre, a progressive court model that addresses the underlying issues which lead youth to criminal behavior. The Youth Justice Centre strives to break the cycle of offending and protect the well-being of the entire community.
While Cordes realizes that Joan’s Place won’t solve the problem of youth homelessness in London, he hopes other organizations and other cities will find inspiration through the project.
“I think people resonate with the idea that no child should ever experience homelessness, but some do. And no young person should experience homelessness, but many do,” Cordes said. “When they do, a life that should be full of hope, opportunities, and dreams becomes a life that’s diminished - during that time at least - around daily survival.”
Cordes hopes residents of Joan’s Place will have some of this stress alleviated by having safe, secure housing, opportunities to learn and grow, and access to any service they may need to propel themselves forward in life.
YOU already has 30 beds at their local youth shelter and nearly 40 affordable housing units in downtown London. With the addition of Joan’s Place, YOU is providing over 100 beds to young people in need.
Backing for Joan’s Place is coming from a number of sources, including $11-million that has been donated by the community. YOU hopes to fundraise another $4-million. The City of London Housing Development Corporation invested almost $4-million, as well.
Funding agreements are in the works with the federal government. Cordes says more finance announcements will be made as time goes on.
Members of the community have made contributions small and large, and Cordes says any donation - no matter how modest - is greatly appreciated.
Anyone interested in learning more about Joan’s Place or making a donation can find information on the YOU website.