A new, 5-storey building in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, includes 20 apartments for the hardest-to-house. In addition to providing much-needed housing, the Ches Penney Centre of Hope will make a real difference in the larger community. Hot meals, healthcare, and vocational training will be provided to about 500 homeless and vulnerable people at the building.
3 Key Goals
Community consultations play an important role in pinpointing housing needs and ways to optimize development and identify partners. In this case, consultations helped to identify that replacing the old building with a new one would offer more benefits.
With their expertise, skills and resources – and a willingness to step up for their community – local businesses are well positioned to contribute to affordable housing projects.
A diversity of public- and private-sector partners developed a project that provides housing for people experiencing homelessness and benefits the larger community.
Project scope and expected outcomes
“I grew up here, on the welfare system,” says the Salvation Army’s Captain Tony Brushett. “The first time I walked into the building and realized it was actually happening – when I realized that people in this community really wanted to spend millions to help the homeless – that was the best moment.”
Tony is referring to the Ches Penney Centre of Hope, a new 5-storey building on Springdale Street in downtown St. John’s. Construction of the project began in the summer of 2018, after a long but fruitful consultation process. In October 2020, the Salvation Army opened the doors to its new Centre of Hope.
An acute need to combat homelessness
The Salvation Army has been working in Newfoundland and Labrador for over 130 years. The organization aims to give a hand up to priority groups and to support their integration back into the community. This is done by connecting them with family and friends, where possible, and helping them find employment.
Over time, the Salvation Army has seen homelessness rise and fall. While homelessness is sometimes spread out across several neighbourhoods, it is mainly in downtown St. John’s. In a city of 125,000, the total number of people who are homeless could be as high as 1,000.
The Salvation Army previously supported people experiencing homeless from 2 buildings, the New Hope Centre and the Harbour Light building. However, with one building no longer operational and the other destroyed by a flood, a replacement building was in order.
The Salvation Army used Seed Funding from CMHC to hold a design charrette. This brought together government departments and agencies, not-for-profit groups and community leaders to determine the best path forward. The Salvation Army also completed a feasibility study. The analysis determined that some of the funds needed for the project could be raised within the community. The Salvation Army territorial headquarters in Toronto gave the go-ahead to proceed with the new building.
The Centre of Hope takes shape
Through the consultation process, the project team determined that it would be more efficient to replace the old Springdale building with a new one. Many “wraparound services” to support homeless and vulnerable people find ways to stabilize their lives would be offered at the new building.
The scope of the project changed as new players came on board. Originally, the idea was to have a service centre that included 10 units. However, in June 2014, the Rotary Club of St. John’s Northwest offered to support another 10 units, making the project more economically feasible. The relationship between the local Rotary Club and the Salvation Army is not new: the Club has taken part in an annual food drive for the Salvation Army since 1984. Teaming up for the Centre of Hope, however, was a first. It was the first time in Newfoundland and Labrador that the Salvation Army partnered on a housing project with another not-for-profit group.
In 2019 the project was approved for $1.15 million in financing through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF). Administered by CMHC, the NHCF finances the construction or repair and renewal of affordable housing. Housing created through the program is close to supports and amenities such as public transit, daycares, and healthcare. In the case of the Centre of Hope, the NHCF funding works as an investment loan. The loan is forgivable once the Salvation Army delivers on making the units affordable.
Also at the federal level, the project secured about $538,000 from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. This community-based program is run by Employment and Social Development Canada and is aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness.
The Province stepped up as well, committing $4 million from the Investment in Affordable Housing through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. The Province also provided $500,000 through the Provincial Homelessness Fund.
The City of St. John’s made a $175,000 donation to the Centre of Hope.
A few words from donors
“Ches was a long-time believer in the value that the Salvation Army provides to the community, the work they do, and the people they help. We were happy to honour his commitment to them with this gift in his memory.”
“The Centre of Hope is a welcomed sign of hope, free of discrimination and judgment for those who will find comfort there. We are proud to be part of this campaign and have full confidence in its ability to provide a supportive environment.”
“A. Harvey & Company is committed to supporting the community. Poverty, addiction, and homelessness are known challenges so many face, and we are happy to be able to support the Centre of Hope in their efforts to help with these issues.”
“We, as a club, felt that this centre would meet a much- needed service to our community. As a result, we committed to raise money to help make this happen. Since this time, we have donated a total of $285,000 to this building and its furnishings.”
“The Centre of Hope,’, a truly fitting name. It’s that hope that inspired Fortis to donate $1 million to support the important work of the Centre and help many people in our community overcome their struggles and move on to a better life. We are a proud neighbour of the Centre of Hope.”
“The Fry Family Foundation has always had tremendous respect for the Salvation Army and its impactful work amongst disadvantaged segments of society. We are pleased to be a partner in the new Centre of Hope. The Fry Family Learning Centre is part of our ongoing commitment to education as a means to break the cycle of poverty.”
“Unionized skilled trade workers have a long history of helping those around them, particularly the most vulnerable in our society. Our members recognized the valuable work of the Salvation Army in our community and were pleased to become a major partner to construct the new Centre of Hope, serving the homeless and less privileged, giving them hope for a better future.”
The community steps up
The Salvation Army contributed $3.4 million of its own funds and initiated a local fundraising campaign. The community responded in grand style with several local companies helping the project take shape:
- The Penney Family and Group of Companies, provided $1.6 million, for the naming rights to the new building – which now commemorates Ches Penney, the company’s founder, who passed away in 2017.
- Fortis Group, an electric and natural-gas utility that is based in St. John’s but operates across North America, also contributed over $1 million.
- There were many additional large company donations from The Harvey Group of Companies, NL Trades, The St. John’s North West Rotary, The Fry Family Foundation and The Juan Roberts Group. In addition, there were many donations made by individuals and other groups.
Tony points out that community contributions are not unusual for the Salvation Army, which has been building relationships in St. John’s for more than 100 years. The Centre of Hope is the result of an incredible community partnership and is the largest fundraising effort undertaken by The Salvation Army in Newfoundland and Labrador. In total, the local fundraising campaign brought in approximately $5.8 million.
The Centre opens
Construction of the 5-storey, 45,000-sq-ft building was completed in the summer of 2020. As soon as the City gave the nod in October 2020, the Centre consolidated services from three other buildings into the Centre of Hope.
Most of these services are found on the building’s main floor: a dining room, commercial kitchen, and a food bank; emergency disaster services; and a healthcare clinic, run by Eastern Healthcare.
The second storey hosts administrative offices and provides space for counsellors who offer the support services. For example, a social recreation counsellor helps clients learn everyday skills such as budgeting, cooking, cleaning and interviewing. On the same floor, The Fry Family Learning Centre, funded by the Fry Family Foundation, offers classes in retail sales and commercial building cleaning. Both of these classes provide on-the-job training in partnership with local businesses.
The common parts of the building are fully accessible, and the apartments can all be converted to be fully accessible. The Centre also boasts being only the second building in the province with geothermal heating, which will help reduce long-term operating costs.
Housing for vulnerable people
The upper floors are dedicated to 20 units of affordable, permanent supportive housing. The housing is for single women and men, between the ages of 25 and 65, experiencing homelessness and other challenges.
At least 2 of the units will be dedicated to chronically homeless individuals but, as Tony puts it, “Our goal is to provide them with the care and support they need each day and to help them build a brighter future.” To help them with their next steps, the goal is to have housing case managers on site 24/7. Their role ranges from making sure that tenants keep appointments and employment to helping them discover their needs and connecting them to the right supports.
A bright future for the Ches Penney Centre of Hope
Tony stresses the importance of partnerships in making this project possible. “In The Salvation Army Ches Penney Centre of Hope project, we engaged government, potential funders, and the community from day one. It takes time and creative thinking to bring a project of this magnitude to fruition, and we give our sincerest thanks to all of those involved in supporting our project.” The Ches Penney Centre of Hope will open more services in 2021 and continue to support people experiencing homelessness for decades to come.
Initiative Name: Ches Penney Centre of Hope
Location: St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
National Housing Strategy Initiative: National Housing Co-Investment Fund
Total Federal Funding Amount:
- CMHC provided financing through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund: $1.15 million.
- CMHC provided a Seed Funding contribution: $10,000.
- Employment and Social Development Canada, through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy: $538,000.
Project Collaborators / Partners:
- The Salvation Army
- Penney Group
- Fortis Group
- A. Harvey & Company
- Trades NL
- Rotary Club of St. John’s Northwest
- Fry Family Foundation
- Juan Roberts Group
- Other community partners
- Province of Newfoundland and Labrador
- City of St. John’s
National Housing Strategy Priority Areas:
- People experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness