'Without Indwell you don’t know where we’d be'

Indwell tenant, Chris, in his Rudy Hulst Commons apartment in Hamilton. Chris has lived here since 2016.

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Chris, Bill and Brent don’t know where they would be if not for Indwell.

Chris, who asked that his last name not be used, had lost everything. He was living under a bridge in the middle of November a few years ago before moving into a shelter and other social housing where drug use was rampant.

Indwell offered him a second chance.

Indwell is a social housing provider that refers to itself as a “Christian charity that creates affordable housing communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.”

Chris moved into Indwell’s Rudy Hulst Commons in Hamilton when the building opened in 2016.

He said living at Indwell is “like Hawaii, it’s paradise” in comparison to his previous living situations.

“I was homeless, in a shelter,” he said. “Things are just going really well since I came in here.

“The staff is always there for you if you need them. It’s just good here, it’s very nice.”

Chris now lives in a one-bedroom apartment with bathroom and kitchen. It’s furnished with a couch, TV and bed.

The one-bedroom apartments at the Commons are built with sliding doors between each room. The doors can be left open to give the apartment a bigger feeling, or closed to create individual rooms.

Chris now volunteers at the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Hamilton multiple mornings throughout the week, starting around 5 a.m.

“I had nothing, so I like to give back,” he said about volunteering.

“Without Indwell you don’t know where we’d be, on the street, or in jail, or anything like that,” said Chris. “They do good for everybody.”

Another Hamilton Indwell tenant, asking to go by Bill, has seen improvements in his health, and personal skills since moving into Perkins Centre in 2011.

Bill lives in a bachelor unit, which includes a bed, kitchenette, and bathroom.

“My health has been so much better,” Bill said. He has had more consistent access to food and is using the provided community kitchen.

“I have so much respect for Indwell, I love them so much,” he said.

Both of the buildings in Hamilton are clean and bright.

One of their main focuses is making sure the shared spaces and apartments have lots of natural light to help with mental health. Shared spaces, such as community kitchens and laundry rooms, are strategically placed on higher floors rather than basement areas for the comfort of the tenants.

Brent, who has been living in a one-bedroom apartment at Hambleton Hall in Simcoe for two and a half years, says the transition to Indwell has changed his life.

Before he came to Indwell, Brent was living with his mother to care for her before she passed away. After she died, he and his brother sold the house, leaving Brent needing to find a place to live.

“My brother got me in here and that’s the best thing that’s happened to me. I needed the space to have to myself, this gives me a lot of that,” said Brent.

A common theme between the three tenants is that they are not sure where they would be without Indwell.

“In a way I’m very fortunate to be here, because I don’t know where I’d be if my brother didn’t get me in here,” Brent said. “We renovated the house and it sold fast, so I’m lucky to be where I am.”

Hambleton Hall also has a short-term housing unit on the lower floor, with five apartments, to provide emergency temporary housing. The short-term unit was requested by Norfolk County, because there is no other homeless shelter currently in the county. The unit has its own entrance for the guests to separate it from the long-term housing, with alarmed doors to separate the programs.

Short-term guests are able to stay for a maximum of 30 days while they work closely with Indwell staff to find housing within the community.

The building in Simcoe is also equipped with eight barrier free units for tenants with mobility issues. These apartments feature things such as lower counters and accessible plugs.

The kitchen at Hambleton Hall is big and bright, with multiple ovens, fridges, and sinks. While each of the units has its own small kitchenette, this larger space is meant to bring people together for gatherings, like the kitchen in any home.

Church Out Serving runs the community gardens outside of Hambleton Hall. Two of the garden beds can be used by tenants, and the others are for the church to grow and harvest produce for food banks. The tenants help with the gardening and it gives them a chance to give back to the community.

Two of Indwell’s buildings in Hamilton, Perkins Centre and Parkdale Landing, are very similar to the project they are working on at the old Norfolk Inn on Norfolk Street South in Simcoe. All three of these buildings started as bars, clubs, or taverns before Indwell took over.

The completed buildings include space for housing, community space, classrooms, storage, and commercial rental space and can barely be recognized from the photos of the establishments before the renovations began.

Leah Logan, program manager at Hambleton Hall, spoke about Indwell creating a community for every resident.

“We know that everyone needs a village, everyone needs supports around them. We become part of that support system for our tenants,” said Logan.

“If we can build a community where when there’s a crisis people are going to have your back, then we’re creating a space that’s not only safe, but open to you thriving in your health and wellness with no judgement,” she added.

The Norfolk Inn is in need of a major facelift if it hopes to house that thriving community.

The building, which currently holds a musky scent, used to house multiple establishments including bars and an exotic dancer club.

The upgraded space, which is expected to cost $7.6 million to complete, will have 32 bachelor apartments.

There is little to no natural light in any of the rooms that were previously bars or clubs. Renovations will include removing a number of the walls and adding in new windows.

Indwell keeps pieces of the original buildings to add into the finished product, like the stained glass windows at Hambleton Hall. Plans are to keep the handrails and square decorative glass from the Norfolk Inn to display in the finished space.

Indwell is inviting the public to tour the old Norfolk Inn before the major renovation begins.

The Last Call event on April 27 will allow the public to take a peek at the former bars as well as at some of the upstairs residential units.

“It’s one thing to hear about it, another to see it,” Teresa Howe, community engagement manager, said citing the extension cords running to apartments that did not have electricity, and broken windows that were never repaired.

Indwell is still in the process of helping some of the people living in the space find homes.

“It’s been difficult to find homes for 40 people in Simcoe,” said Howe.

Two-thirds of the people living there have moved out, but they are still looking for spaces for the rest.

When the project is completed, the housing at the Norfolk Inn will be more involved than others. They plan on providing one free meal a day to the residents. The community kitchen will be installed in an accessible place for all tenants to access.

“We are going to have professional support staff on site, nurses, peer support, addictions worker, food security,” said Howe.

Indwell staff hold office hours open to any of the tenants in the building. Chris said he takes his mail down during office hours to have the staff help make sure he understands what his letters are saying to avoid scams.

Indwell has an interview process, which involves figuring out if someone will use and benefit from the staff support before deciding if the person is a good match. The staff does weekly room checks.

Every tenant pays rent based on the Ontario Disability Support Program suggested housing allowance, which currently sits around $500. If a tenant is employed but sitting below the poverty line officials use a formula to calculate an appropriate price for rent.

Indwell hopes the downtown Simcoe building, still awaiting its new name, will be open in the fall of next year.