Indwell is dedicated to helping people in Ontario with disabilities – including those with mental health diagnoses and/or addictions – by creating affordable housing communities that promote, according to its mission statement, “health, wellness and belonging.” Their “knowable” communities are deliberately small, with 40-60 apartments per building.
The organization dates back to the 1970s, when a number of Christian Reformed (CRC) churches in the Hamilton area, under the visionary leadership of John and Siny Prinzen, began what was known then as Homestead. Harry Van Belle was one of its early Board members.
Initially, Van Belle recalls, the Prinzens opened up a bedroom in their house to one young woman who needed a place to live. They soon realized the great need for support for adults dealing with mental health issues, so a group of churches bought a house in downtown Hamilton and offered it as a residence to seven people.
“Residents were responsible for buying food and making meals, doing household chores and regularly taking their medication. They were encouraged to create and follow a set of goals, geared toward eventually graduating into the wider community to live on their own. All of this happened under the in-house supervision and support of a married couple called ‘house parents,’” Van Belle says. “The two-year program proved very successful. In-hospital care in the absence of aftercare tends to become a revolving door. By contrast, most Homestead residents successfully graduated from the program and began living on their own. It helped that members of the CRC churches in the area regularly interacted with the residents in a caring way and included them in their church communities.”
Faith that moves mountains
In 1999, Homestead expanded into what today is known as Indwell, which one year later bought its first apartment building. According to Graham Cubitt, Director of Projects and Development, Indwell’s success stems from a focus on relationships, in addition to social service connections. This model translates into housing stability, lower use of emergency services, cost savings for governments, and, most importantly, better quality of life for hundreds of people every year. Cubitt stresses that church support is still central to the services that Indwell provides.
Van Belle agrees. “When local churches sponsor or organize an initiative like Indwell, guided by a clear vision and a community committed to realizing it, these projects can be practical examples of faith that moves mountains.”
Christian Courier asked Jeff Neven, Indwell’s Executive Director, to describe a project he’s excited about for 2020.
“While Indwell works with churches in many different ways,” Neven says, “our partnership with Hughson Street Baptist Church is unique. In a few short months, Indwell will be opening 45 apartments above their new worship space in the north end of Hamilton – the first time we’re creating supported affordable housing above a church. I’m really excited to seeing all the benefits this close relationship with a church will afford the people who will find a home there.”
Last month, Indwell won an Energy Conservation and Innovation Award from the city of Woodstock’s Chamber of Commerce for its development of low-energy and low-emissions buildings. As Cubitt explains, “We believe that our Christian calling to love our neighbours as ourselves includes environmental stewardship, so as developers and operators of multi-residential buildings, our everyday actions impact creation long-term. In 2016 we made the decision to adopt Passive House design principles – a standard that was developed in Europe 25 years ago – to help us achieve very deep reductions in energy use and emissions compared to just constructing to basic building code standards.”
Through this experience, Indwell has become one of Canada’s leading developers of low-energy and low-emissions buildings. The Woodstock Chamber of Commerce highlighted a recent project designed to cut energy use by 70 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 69 percent. “The award recognized Indwell for helping our tenants and our communities take leadership in addressing environmental issues through adopting new approaches to building sustainable homes,” Cubitt says.
Indwell currently supports about 600 people in 570 apartments. While the majority of the communities are still in Hamilton, Indwell also has programs in Woodstock, Simcoe and London, with building projects in development in these cities as well as Mississauga.
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