London

Londoner ends years of homelessness after landing spot in new Embassy Commons housing

As a housing crisis overwhelms cities across southwestern Ontario, James Henry just moved into the new Embassy Commons building in London's Old East Village. 

The building brings 72 affordable apartments to Old East Village

A man in a black hoodie looks sits in a chair
'It just feels like I have a purpose now to keep on going,' says James Henry, one of the new tenants to move into Embassy Commons on Dundas Street in London. (Michelle Both/CBC)

James Henry is now breathing a "sigh of relief" after having a place to call his own for the first time in years. 

"It's better than sleeping outside, I'll tell you that much, but I'm so happy to be here," he said. "I feel really comfortable."

As London continues to face affordable housing challenges, Henry just secured his own apartment. He moved into one of 72 affordable units at the new Embassy Commons building at 744 Dundas Street in Old East Village. The building, run by Indwell, offers permanent housing with on-site support for tenants, who began moving in at the beginning of November.

"It just feels like I have a purpose now to keep on going," Henry said. "It's a brand new building, and I appreciate everything that they've done for me."

Henry's one-bedroom unit includes a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and living room, along with shared laundry services and a common space. The apartment is furnished with donations from a local church.

A man in a black hoodie reaches for dish detergent
James Henry now has his own kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living space after moving into his new apartment at the beginning of November. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Henry said he was shocked when he got the call from Indwell that an apartment was available. While he's happy to now have a home, he's still concerned about people without one and said he gives food and clothing to people when he can.

"I just want people to be safe because I know how it feels," said Henry. "If they're in really rough shape, if I have something, I will give it to them."

It wasn't long ago he was sleeping in Gibbons Park and Basil Grover park. He's been trying to "survive" since his house burned down about 14 years ago.

"Sometimes, when you're on the street, it makes you feel down," he said. "Every day is a challenge. You just gotta take it day-by-day, but you gotta survive."

Man in a black toque stands beside a colourful wall mosiac
James Henry stands on Dundas Street outside his new apartment building. A mosiac created in partnership with the London Clay Art Centre reads 'Home Sweet Home.' He says he wants to help as many people as he can who are still experiencing homelessness. (Michelle Both/CBC)

More than 2,000 people are experiencing homelessness in London

According to London's Vital Signs report, 2,241 people are experiencing homelessness in London as of Sept. 1. More than 300 urban encampments are supported by London Cares each month as shelters operate at capacity.

The report states 6,230 people on the waiting list for social housing in the city and the price of rent increased by 36.9 per cent in London over the last year.

As more tenants move into the Embassy Commons, apartments are already at about 40 per cent capacity. The building houses 67 one-bedroom units and five two-bedroom units, along with commercial space for a pharmacy, Squeaky Wheel Bike Co-op and Edgar and Joe's Café.

construction people work on a multi-storey building
The Embassy Commons building at 744 Dundas Street is in the 'very last days of construction,' says Indwell's Graham Cubitt. The building will house 72 affordable apartment units along with a pharmacy, Edgar and Joe's Café and Squeaky Wheel Bike Co-op. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Many of the tenants were experiencing homelessness before they moved in, said Graham Cubitt, Indwell's director of projects and development. He said Indwell is working with the City of London on a priority list and wait list for tenant selection.

"It's amazing just to see tenants experiencing new homes," he said. "It's proof once again that supportive housing is the solution to homelessness, and we're just so happy to be a part of that community response."

Some of the units are part of an "enhanced supports" program focused on physical and mental health and overcoming addiction, helping people move toward stability after leaving homelessness or coming out of the hospital, he said. 

Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development for Indwell, says Embassy Commons is proof that solutions to homelessness are possible through supportive housing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

'People don't have to be homeless' 

The housing crisis is overwhelming communities across southwestern Ontario, Cubitt said. But he believes more can be done.

In 2019, Indwell opened Woodfield Gate in London, operating 66 affordable one-bedroom apartments at 356 Dundas Street. The charity is also part of the Vision SoHo Alliance, a group of six non-profit housing developers creating more affordable housing on the site of Old Victoria Hospital in the city.

"People don't have to be homeless, and they're not inherently homeless," Cubitt said. "These circumstances may be driven by poverty, rent, eviction, mental health or addictions. But by far, absolutely almost everyone that we've ever worked with, we know, can find stable housing.

"When we put those right supports around, and we build the housing appropriately, it can be a game changer for communities," he said. 

"Solutions are possible." 

Londoner James Henry tells CBC's Michelle Both how he's feeling now that he found a place to live after spending years living on the streets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Both is a reporter for CBC London. She holds a master's degree in journalism and communication from Western University. You can reach her at michelle.both@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @michellelboth.

now