From homeless to housed: one woman finds 'pure joy' in her new apartment

Erin Kloos is one of 41 women who now call Block Line Road in Kitchener home. Her struggle with mental health and addiction led to losing her home and her support network along the way. The newly constructed building is part of the YWCA's supportive housing.

'The city has taken from me, but at the same time they have given it back'

Erin Kloos sits on the couch in her new apartment on Block Line Road in Kitchener, Ont. The building is a brand new YWCA's supportive housing complex. Kloos has decorated her unit with guitars and other trinkets that were given to her by friends who have died of opioids in recent years. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Erin Kloos hasn't had a place to decorate in a long time but her new apartment is beginning to feel more like home, as she puts her own spin on it.

Her own graffiti art adds a splash of colour and small trinkets placed all over her new apartment on Block Lone Road, in Kitchener, Ont., are reminders of the people she built relationships while she was homeless over the last five years.

"I think why they kept [the room] so neutral, because you get to come here and if you want to pop an accent, you can make it how ever you want to make it," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

Kloos is one of 41 women who now call an apartment in the newly-built complex home.

It's part of the YWCA's supportive housing program, funded with $8.2 million from the federal government's Rapid Housing Initiative — designed to support women experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The complex sits on a parcel of land donated by the City of Kitchener, valued at $2.57 million.

Mental health and addiction supports will be on site regularly. Residents will have access to the food bank and other community programs through the Kitchener Public Library and St. Mary's High School, said Abla Tsolu, director of homelessness and housing for the YWCA.

"They are all really eager to come in and support in any way and help build a community here for the Block Line women," she said when construction was completed in April.

Erin Kloos was homeless for five years before securing a unit at Block Line Road. Kloos worked as a brewer previously and is considering getting back into industry. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Women have been moving into the new building in small groups every week. Kloos moved in the week of May 9 and became emotional when she recalled the first night in her home.

"When you go to sleep at night, you don't realize how natural a comfort not having to worry is. The silence I experienced that night was deafening," she said.

"It was pure joy."

'The entire community in this apartment'

Kloos proudly displays several guitars in her living room window. She grew up playing cello and guitar and had a career as a brewer for Ontario Craft Brewers for over a decade.

"Toward the end of my career I was experiencing precarious housing issues," she said, adding her struggle with mental health and addiction led to losing her home and her support network.

"I became involved with the YWCA because I had nobody and I did not have the skill set on my own to make it out," she said. 

Two guitars by her window were given to her by people who died in the recent opioid epidemic. It joins countless other mementos — tributes to friends she's lost. 

"This is the entire community in this apartment."

In addition to playing musical instruments, Erin Kloos also does graffiti art. Kloos wants to create a mural with the names of friends who have died due to the opioid epidemic. (Carmen Groleau/ CBC)

Kloos says she's hoping to put her graffiti skills to good use by creating a memorial piece of the people lost to the opioid epidemic.

She's now eagerly looking toward her own future and finding ways she can give back to her community and maybe a return to the brewing industry one day as well.

"The city has taken from me, but at the same time they have given it back to me — in this Block Line residence," she said.

Close up of a sign.
The YWCA's new supportive housing building wrapped up construction in late April and will house 41 single women. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)