The Year in Review

Mourning losses, overcoming challenges, celebrating accomplishments.

As we settle back into our old home base, we reflect on a year full of monumental challenges and momentous advances. We hope this shared reflection brings us closer together to prepare for a future full of promise and possibility.

Thank you for your commitment to our cause throughout these difficult times.

Reclamation…

August 11, 2023, marked 20 years since the doors opened at our emergency shelter in Old East Village and 22 years since our origins as a Tent City protest in a downtown park.

After three years of operating out of a hotel, we celebrated the reclamation of some solid ground in this topsy-turvy world, in solidarity with the incredible participants and their pets we brought safely home with us.

Reflection…

The pandemic had interrupted our plans to secure a new facility and forced us to shift operations to a hotel. There, we increased the number of people served and prioritized those with complex housing requirements including medical conditions, seniors, couples, and those with beloved pets.

As our time at the hotel drew to a close, desperate demand for our services grew along with the deepening housing and homelessness crisis.

We faced a significant dilemma.

We could not simply return to the largely inaccessible quarters of our old home, considering the health and safety of the population we serve, the Housing First approach we employ, the community supports we bring into the space, contagion prevention, plus a hundred more reasons that make a cramped, dorm-style shelter ineffective for health and housing outcomes.

Nor could we secure and prepare an alternative site in time.

Ticking Clock…

There were few suitable sites to choose from, and it was a tough market. Numerous attempts to lease or purchase a property failed. We were outbid or outdone or had the rug pulled out from under us. At times, we encountered a strange misconception that as a charity dealing with this crisis, we could simply stomp our feet and government support would be lavished upon our doorstep for whatever inflated price we would agree to pay for a property.

The hotel was scheduled to close. And we desperately needed to be in a home of our own.

Nail-biting uncertainty plagued us in the countdown to our exit.

Promise And Possibility…

Our ‘discovery’ of the purpose-built Pallet shelter made a transitional solution possible, unlike other ‘tiny homes’, huts, converted trailers, or portables we had reviewed. The pre-fab, ready-to-assemble bed-sit cabins are relatively low-cost, low-profile, transportable, all-season climate-ready, constructed with mold, rot, and pest-resistant material, pet-friendly, and easy to clean for quick turnaround. They are equipped for safety, livability, and accessibility.

With funding from the City of London and a London Community Foundation Vitality Grant, Pallet shelter rooms were installed on the exterior grounds, along with retrofits to our building to accommodate more individuals indoors.

This uniquely configured indoor-outdoor program provides for 38 individuals at any given time – versus the 12 who could be safely supported indoors alone – and substantially improves the quality of accommodations and standard of care we can provide.

Unity Project is the first in Canada to use these structures, and their promise will be evaluated.

Mission Accomplished…

Our team worked diligently with participants in packing and preparing, planning new procedures and programming, and finding housing or alternative shelter for those unable to come with us.

It was a thrilling day in May when they boarded up the hotel as our moving truck pulled away.

Every participant and pet in our care avoided returning to the street.

Settling In…

Residents got to work right away, creating a warm and homey atmosphere. Some even used their own meagre funds to make lovely curtains for their windows or
decorate their doorsteps with flowerpots and welcome mats.

One senior resident painstakingly landscaped the entire front garden, including some of his own plants and seedlings, which he’d nurtured and cared for throughout his time at the hotel.

Certainly, there are many challenges in this new setting, but residents actively participate in house meetings to help shape the community we are building together in this space.

Our Home For Good!

And then… on August 16, 2023, Unity Project finally purchased a new property!

Within 3-5 years, we will move our shelter to a new building, down the street in Old East Village.

The acquisition fulfills a hard-won, long overdue, and key milestone in our development and represents our best opportunity to rebuild with intention, love, and purpose following the wreckage of the pandemic.

It represents our community’s best opportunity to bring the knowledge and expertise Unity Project has solidified throughout that time and over the last two decades to help deliver on the Whole of Community System Response and the health and homelessness pathway developing in our community.

Sights On Our Future Site…

We will build anew!

We will create an inclusive environment where our participants can thrive by providing low-barrier access for those with disabilities, mobility challenges, and mental health issues and allows them to stay together with their loved ones, be they person or pet.

We will be purposeful in embedding opportunities for cultural practice, access to health supports, and intentional care and case-management.

We will design spaces that consider safety, privacy, and dignity to support each person’s unique journey in transitioning from homelessness to housing and stability in community.

We will build an appropriately equipped and resourced site to support the many challenges which people in abject poverty can face and help them achieve their goals for a better life.

The View From Here…

Our Home for Good promises to be an amply-sized and intentionally-designed space to function somewhere between institutional facility and home – providing the bricks and mortar of that pathway from front door stabilization to housing and stability.

As plans develop, we look forward to gaining input from the businesses and residents of Old East Village, to contribute to the well-being of one of London’s most charming neighbourhoods – one that we are proud to call home.

The acquisition and initial development costs have been financed with a loan through London Community Foundation’s Social Impact Fund, a federal Reaching Home grant, and previous donations and bequests earmarked for the cause.

A capital campaign is in our future.

Our Participants Need Your Support Here And Now…

A tragic doubling from some 1,000 to now 2,000 Londoners experiencing homelessness on any given day or night increasingly affects us all. Demand for our services has grown. We serve more seniors, folks with serious health challenges, and too often grieve the heartbreaking loss of increasingly younger people.

We welcome the Whole of Community System Response for health and homelessness and applaud the investment Londoners have made in it.

That’s why Unity Project has invested in this multi-disciplinary made-in-London plan. Our staff make vital contributions at the various community tables, we brought our leadership to the Hubs Implementation Plan and participated in the evaluations for Hubs proposals.

Our supporters need to know that the Fund for Change is in development, and Unity Project is not immediately nor automatically a beneficiary. We will likely make an application in the future if our plans align with the
eligibility criteria at that time.

And that’s why we ask for your generosity and support in the here and now.