Another exciting project Réseau Compassion Network is proud to be part of involves the McLaren Hotel, a derelict building in Winnipeg’s downtown core that houses 150 people in need of low-cost rental housing.
Tenants living in the building have access to a small private room and one shared bathroom and kitchen per floor. Built in 1915 and rarely updated, the living conditions have become simply unacceptable.
When concerns were raised about the living conditions and the state of the building, the owner explained that he was worried that any large-scale renovation would push out the tenants as rents would increase. The tenants, in many cases, would have nowhere else to go. For many, the choice is between an old, run-down former hotel or living on the street.
After many discussions, the Equal Housing Initiative was born; a partnership involving many organisations working in the non-profit sector that has created a plan to renovate the building while ensuring affordable rents, meaning tenants will not lose their homes. Réseau Compassion Network has contributed by funding some of the initial feasibility studies to get the project off the ground.
“We now have floor plans and architectural drawings at the ready, and those were created with the help of the tenants themselves,” explains Réseau Compassion Network’s CEO, Daniel Lussier. “For example, they shared that while they would appreciate their own washrooms, they preferred communal kitchens. Gathering spaces and welcoming reception spaces mattered, too, so that’s what has been designed. Their agency and dignity come first. This is their home, and they deserve to have a say in its creation.”
While we are waiting for the project to be approved by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, we didn’t hesitate to jump into the action! Our member Sara Riel has expanded services into the McLaren Hotel. With an often-shifting resident population, the building was identified as a location where social work supports could be impactful.
A small team of social work students, led by a mental health counsellor and case manager for Sara Riel, have begun building relationships with residents. The team is focused on meeting residents where they’re at; the supports being offered by the team are highly personalized, and optional, as they acknowledge that many residents feel a little left behind or forgotten about. The group is coordinating nutritional workshops, medical clinics for vaccinations, and acting as a case workers in times when residents are not able to connect with the worker assigned to them.
While eagerly waiting for the renovation project to begin, Réseau Compassion Network and Sara Riel continue to work on finding solutions to respond this immense need in the Winnipeg community.