Kitchener-Waterloo

St. John's Kitchen to be converted into affordable housing campus

The Working Centre, with the support of a local developer, has announced a new 38-unit affordable housing project at 97 Victoria St. N., in downtown Kitchener, across the street from where 50 people will be evicted from an encampment on Thursday.

New housing announced days before encampment eviction

The Working Centre is prepared to give St. John's Kitchen in downtown Kitchener, Ont., a makeover, and turn it into a campus-style cluster of housing and community spaces and resources. (Perimeter Development)

Poverty reduction non-profit The Working Centre, with the support of a local developer, has announced a new 38-unit affordable housing project at 97 Victoria St. N., in downtown Kitchener, Ont.

That's where St. John's Kitchen is located, which is owned and operated by The Working Centre. Free hot meals are provided in the converted warehouse, and it also acts as a drop-in centre with showers and laundry facilities. 

The Working Centre began working on the housing idea in 2019, but the announcement Tuesday came just days before approximately 50 people living at an encampment across the street, at Victoria and Weber streets, will be evicted. 

"It's so poignant that there's 50 people right outside our door, who use our washrooms at night, who don't have a place to go," said Joe Mancini, co-founder of The Working Centre, in an interview with CBC News. 

"And it does state, very clearly, the importance of housing projects — especially those projects that are designed to support this group."

The existing structures will be converted into a "campus-style" collection of services, with group meals, common indoor and outdoor living spaces, a rooftop garden, fitness space, a community centre, on-site health care and opportunities on site for residents to work.

It's projected to cost $19 million. 

Closing for construction

Perimeter Development is offering its services pro bono to help make it happen, said CEO Craig Beattie. The company is also donating $1 million toward the cost.

Beattie said the company's bread and butter is for-profit projects, but this one felt vital.

"As folks who live here, it's important: we've got a role and a responsibility to look at the community as a whole," he told CBC News. 

"This housing crisis, the housing issues that are going on right now.... I think if you take pride in the community that you live in, there should be a component of being good stewards, to say: 'Hey, what can we be doing to help the broader community.'"

Construction will start in the spring, he said, and will last a year. During that time, St. John's Kitchen — as it exists on Victoria Street — will be closed. 

But Mancini says The Working Centre will find another location in the core to carry out the services his group provides there, during the construction.

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