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Wyndham House: Addressing homelessness for 50 years and counting

In addition to milestone anniversary, local agency readies for reopening of expanded Bellevue Street facility

This will be a memorable year in the existence of Wyndham House, believes executive director Debbie Bentley-Lauzon.

Not only will the local agency, which provides shelter and support services for people age 16 to 24, reach the half-century mark in 2023, officials are preparing to re-launch its Bellevue Street facility following an expansion effort.

“It’s such an exciting year that we’re going into. I’m so proud of the staff and the work that they do every day in the community,” Bentley-Lauzon said. “Wyndham House can be really proud as an agency.

“I hate to say that old cliche ‘it takes a village,’ but it takes a lot of people to support vulnerable pockets within our population and really make sure that they’re well taken care of.”

Formed in 1973, Wyndham House was spearheaded by two Homewood Healthcare Centre nurses who were running an eating disorders clinic out of the Delhi Street facility. 

“A lot of young women who were graduating (their program) and leaving, they didn’t have stable housing to return to,” Bently-Lauzon explained of the inspiration, noting the nurses were soon joined by a psychiatrist and community members to get the idea off the ground.

“It felt like a needed thing and they were very tenacious in getting it started,” the executive director continued, noting the Norfolk Street shelter began with eight beds for “young girls in trouble and with no home.”

The idea, she said, was to help youths complete high school in order to open more doors for them in the future.

“If you can get a young person to graduate high school, the positive outcomes last their entire lifetime,” Bentley-Lauzon said. “If you can’t graduate and have a high school diploma, for so many life outcomes, the trajectory goes down instead of up.”

A new home form Wyndham House opened on Suffolk Street in 1982, though it soon closed for about two years due to a lack of funding. However, board members were able to secure operational money through the County of Wellington, prompting the shelter’s return.

In 2000, Wyndham House amalgamated with the Guelph Teen Housing Committee, which had run an eight-bed shelter for young men on Bellevue Street for the previous decade. Working separately toward the same end essentially meant double the administrative and fundraising costs, Bentley-Lauzon said, so teaming up seemed like a better use of the limited funds available.

“That’s when we started to really look at the holistic needs of the community,” she explained. “Young people are showing up within our system with really complex addictions issues, mental health issues as well as past trauma and they really need specific interventions and spaces designed to suit their needs.”

While helping young people to complete high school remains a core focus for Wyndham House, it has since expanded its services to include numerous other supports, such as employment, life skills training and more.

“We find there is such complexity in our young people that going to school maybe isn’t the top priority – we see it on the planning path, but right now we need to stabilize (their) health care, funding, a place to live,” said Bentley-Lauzon.

Its most recent service expansion aims to do just that. The Concurrent Specialized Youth Hub at 133 Woolwich St. is where youths can access mental health and addiction support, see an occupational therapist, speak with a peer worker, visit their case manager or be connected with primary care.

Previously, those and other services were typically provided in various locations, causing people to travel between appointments in order to get help.

“We know from homelessness literature that that’s a big issue with homelessness, it can become a full-time job trying to get all different service needs met,” said program director Kristen Cairney.

“Everyone at the hub is able to provide specialized care that responds to all of those co-occurrent needs instead of saying ‘I can just treat you for this one piece and you have to go somewhere else for the other piece.’ 

“The intention is to break down those barriers and make it more accessible, more streamlined as well.”

The hub launched as a bare-bones effort in April of 2021, with Wyndham House pulling together what it could to begin providing a more broad array of services. Health Canada funding was secured a year later allowing for the current slate of options to be made available.

That funding continues through November of this year, but officials are hoping to be able to continue operating the hub well into the future.

Construction of the Bellevue Street facility expansion is about 90 per cent completed, Bentley-Lauzon said, adding she hopes to see residents return there within a couple months.

Though the number of beds being offered there will remain unchanged, the expansion means residents will have their own unit.

“Shared accommodations can be tough for young people,” she said, noting roommates sometimes don’t get along. “That can often end up in young people choosing not to live there and going back into homelessness. So if everybody has their own place in the house to call home, it stabilizes, and the time that they stay with us, it expands.”

Each independent bachelor unit will have a three-piece bathroom, sleeping area, a microwave, mini-fridge and a separate entrance. The building will have a large communal living room, a kitchen, a meeting room and a laundry room. 

A variety of support services will be available there 24/7, all year round. 

“We were lucky enough to get some really good grants coming in from both the federal government and the province, as well as support from the municipality,” Bentley-Lauzon said. “We’re in the fun part of picking out laminate floorings and countertops.”

While construction is underway, alternative living arrangements have been found for residents.

Wyndham House now offers a total of 32 shelter beds, in addition to overseeing the resource hub and providing independent living support for more than 150 youths.

By stemming the flow of youths entering the adult shelter system, Wyndham House plays an important role in the effort to eliminate local homelessness.

“Everything we do is prevention and diversion out of homelessness for the youth sector, so they don’t ever have to see the adult system,” said Bentley-Lauzon.  “We really do partner between Stepping Stone and, soon, when Kindle comes online with their social housing as well.”

Stepping Stone is the organization behind the establishment of Grace Gardens, a 32-unit permanent supportive housing project at the former Parkview Motel on Woolwich Street.

Kindle Communities is in the process of constructing a 32-unit permanent supportive housing project in the Onward Willow area of the city, with access off Shelldale Crescent.

Community fundraising for both, as well as the Bellevue Street facility, is being handled through United Way of Guelph, Wellington, Dufferin’s Home for Good campaign.

For more information about the campaign, or to make a donation, visit homeforgoodgw.ca.