Proposed Elmwood facility for people struggling with homelessness, addiction a 'monumental undertaking'

A proposed $6-million housing facility in Elmwood to help those struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health took a significant step forward on Monday.

City committee approves rezoning property for planned 40-unit housing initiative

Riverwood House, designed by Sputnik Architecture, is a 40-unit housing complex expected to open in 2021. (Sputnik Architecture)

A proposed $6-million housing facility in Elmwood, intended to help those struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health, took a significant step forward on Monday.

Rezoning required to go ahead with Riverwood Church Community's transitional housing project was passed by Winnipeg's property and development committee at its Jan. 6 meeting. The rezoning had been recommended for approval by city administration.

Riverwood plans to turn an empty lot at Talbot Avenue and Stadacona Street and a vacant building next door into Riverwood House — a four-storey building with 40 units for homeless people who are recovering from addiction and struggling with mental health issues.

The plan includes refurbishing an existing one-storey building into a restaurant to provide a meal program and vocational training for residents.

Riverwood Church pastor Jon Courtney describes the project as a "monumental undertaking" that the community is excited about.

"We have been involved in supportive programming for more than 20 years in the neighbourhood and always wanted to look for solutions to housing," he said.

"It is incredibly exciting we were able to move pretty quickly down the line of committing to this partnership. This was the perfect time for us."

No maximum stay

Those selected to live in Riverwood House will need to demonstrate that they've taken steps toward addictions recovery and their willingness to be part of a recovery community.

Even though the housing is described as transitional, there will be no fixed timeline for how long they can stay.

Social workers will be on site, the project's website says, to help residents set their recovery goals, make healthy lifestyle choices and connect with community. 

The project was the brainchild of Don and Eileen Kroeker, now both retired in Winnipeg.

"My wife and I have had some personal interactions with homeless people," Don Kroeker said.

"We decided this was an important issue that we could do something about. There are 1,500 homeless people in Winnipeg, and we wanted to come up with a way to help them with long-term change."

He and Eileen ran a potato farm near Winkler, Man., for decades, employing hundreds of people at Kroeker Farms Ltd. 

Now retired in Winnipeg, the couple say they felt a calling to give back.

"I believe that God is interested in everybody in this world, and those who have resources need to share them with people who don't have them," Kroeker said. "The idea of housing for the homeless just grew on me."

The couple started up a non-profit entity called Winnipeg Supportive Housing and were joined by Peter Hargraves, an architect with Sputnik Architecture, and John David Pankratz, the director of social enterprise at RAY (Resource Assistance for Youth).

Kroeker found the empty lot near Riverwood Church Community, which operates out of a converted fire hall on Talbot. Kroeker got in touch with Courtney at Riverwood. 

"He was so enthusiastic immediately. A few weeks later we offered them a partnership," said Kroeker. 

"That lot which we found the money for is [now] owned by Riverwood Church Community, so this whole project will be owned and operated by them."

Construction planned for spring

For Courtney, the meeting and partnership was providential. He said he and other Riverwood staff see the effects of addiction and mental health struggles on a daily basis.

"For us to have this project come to us and be a partner within it is timely," he said.

"We have been hoping and looking towards being able to provide solutions to things that really burden us, when we see people can't access the resources they need."

The entire project is expected to cost just over $6 million. Half of that is expected to come from donors, who have already contributed about $1.5 million. Kroeker won't say exactly how much his own contribution was, but acknowledges it was substantial.

The hope is to secure a portion of the remaining funding needed from government, but the organization can't say right now which programs it's applying to. Kroeker said the housing project likely will require mortgage financing.

Riverwood will work closely with other community organizations to provide support for clients, says Kroeker. In developing the program, he has visited with Siloam Mission, Morberg House, the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission.

Construction is expected to begin this spring, with completion next year.

A proposed $6-million housing facility in Elmwood, intended to help those struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health, is expected to take a significant step forward on Monday. 2:40

About the Author

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


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