Community comes together to restore new refugee welcome centre

Over the weekend, refugees began living inside the new home of Matthew House Windsor. It means fewer refugees will be turned away for temporary housing, including unaccompanied minors.

Newly-renovated building allows unaccompanied refugee minors to stay in Windsor

Rose and Dan Harper are excited to know that the work they've put into Matthew House Windsor is soon going to pay off. For the past five weeks, they've been renovating it for a refugee mother with three children. (Jason Viau/CBC)

When the Harper family first walked into apartment 107 in what has become the new home for Matthew House Windsor, they were shocked to find patchy drywall, scraped cupboards and nearly-unlivable conditions.

"Before, it was a disaster," said Don Harper.

Now, the 15 members of the Harper family who all helped renovate the apartment together are applying the finishing touches, before a refugee mother walks in with her three daughters to call it home.

"It really makes me feel good. Part of the whole process was the fun that we had as a family working together," he added. "We are excited to know the family that's coming is going to be able to use it."

This past weekend, refugees living in Matthew House Windsor have been moving out of its old single-family home on Drouillard Road into its new facility — the 18,000-square-foot ALPHA House in Forest Glade.

Victor Anteyi, far right, and his wife Janet, second from left, fled from Nigeria to Montreal, Que. where they stayed for one year. In April, the family moved to Matthew House Windsor's old location on Drouillard Road. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Harper, along with his wife Rose, are just two of the 250 community members who have come together to make it all happen.

"We're a mission-based church that goes to missions all over the world. And here's a mission right here in Windsor that we can support," said Rose. 

"We felt if we could help one refugee family to be able to live here and be comfortable in Windsor, then they could move on and then this apartment could be helping somebody else that's coming in."

"Prior to now, unaccompanied minors, 16 and 17 years olds for the most part, have been getting shipped off to Toronto, even though they want to stay here in Windsor.- Mike Morency, executive director of Matthew House Windsor

For the past five weeks, the Harper family has improved the apartment to a livable standard.

"Our family, all of us, decided that we were going to adopt this apartment," said Rose, adding the work started with removing doorknobs, painting the walls and finding furniture.

"Every bit of furniture that's in here has been donated. This is totally livable right now, right down to the dishes and the cupboard."

Refugee families settling in to new facility

After fleeing to Canada due to fears of facing religious persecution in Nigeria, Victor Anteyi brought his wife and two children to Windsor on April 1.

They had spent the past year living in Montreal.

"I had to look for a place befitting for my family, which I got to understand Windsor is just the right place to be," said Anteyi, adding staff at Matthew House Windsor made him feel welcome and comfortable from the on-set.

According to Anteyi, the old building lacked "ambience, environment and space." He said the new facility is helping Matthew House "do more in terms of serving humanity."

Why a new facility was needed

But there's still more work to be done, according to Matthew House Windsor executive director Mike Morency.

New flooring has yet to be installed and more appliances are needed inside the facility's program room, which will be used for language classes, cooking lessons and finance workshops, among others.

The new building, however, is a sizable improvement over Matthew House Windsor's former home and will be split into two sections.

Mike Morency, executive director for Matthew House Windsor, standing in one of the hallways when the facility first opened. (Jason Viau/CBC)

One is for single-father families, traditional families and single men. The other side will house single-mother families, single women and unaccompanied minors.

"Prior to now, unaccompanied minors, 16 and 17 years olds for the most part, have been getting shipped off to Toronto, even though they want to stay here in Windsor," said Morency.

"So now, with this facility, we'll be able to have them stay right here within Matthew House while they go through their process," he said.

The new facility will also make it easier for refugees to move from one living space to another.

"Here, we'll have 12 bedrooms as well as 11 transitional apartments ... so people will be able to move from a room over to an apartment until they can find affordable permanent housing in the community."

Renovations are set to finish by July 1. However, the refugee welcome centre is short about $15,000 to buy materials for the renovations.

with files from Jason Viau


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