A former Winnipeg flophouse that was shut down five years ago has been reborn as a living space for the chronically homeless, following millions of dollars in renovations.
The Bell Hotel on Main Street, which was reopened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, will again offer rooms to people who live on the margins of society.
Renovated at a cost of $5.3 million, the 42-suite apartment building is part of Manitoba's new Housing First strategy, which is modelled after similar projects in British Columbia and the U.S. state of Oregon.
There is support in the building for people with addictions or mental health problems, but getting well or getting sober are not conditions for living in the building, according to officials.
"We have a lot of eye candy out there, but this one has really got some soul to it," said Ross McGowan, CEO of CentreVenture, the City of Winnipeg's downtown development agency behind the project.
"Just imagine all the natural light," added Jeff Palmer from CentreVenture, pointing to all of the new windows installed during the renovation.
No more dingy units
The renovated rooms in the 105-year-old building are nothing like the dingy, decrepit units that were once a hallmark of the Bell, Palmer said.
"And they're all independent units so they have full bathrooms. If you recall, they had shared bathrooms before," Palmer said.
The former hotel will be a place for all, regardless of age or race, including some who have not had a home for decades. Tenants can rent units or lease them on a long-term basis.
"When they get that key and they open that door and they are home, the reaction will be phenomenal," said Kerri Irvin Ross, Manitoba's minister of housing and community development.
Catherine Carney-White of the Main Street Project shelter said it will mean a lot to the city's homeless to have a room to call their own.
"You can have your own things that are meaningful to you, just like you and I would, and that makes a big difference," she said.
For James Scott, an artist who hopes to get a home at the Bell, the new living space is a welcome step for the city.
"I feel ecstatic," he said. "It's definitely a good feeling."