Siloam Mission announces big plans for new housing

WINNIPEG, MB - In a city where available housing is desperately scarce, the begrimed carpets, closet-like bathrooms and narrow, hospital-green hallways of the Madison Memorial Lodge provide at least some semblance of a home to 75 Winnipeggers. Most of them struggle with mental or physical disabilities; some also live with alcoholism or other addictions.

But the sour-smelling 70-year-old apartment building on Evanson Street is about to undergo a major transformation. On April 1, Siloam Mission purchased the 87-unit housing complex for $300,000 from the Madison Lodge organization after a year of negotiations. Siloam Mission intends to transform it into a dry housing complex for people transitioning out of homelessness, says Siloam Mission executive director Floyd Perras.

By this time next year, Perras hopes the building will be fully cleaned, renovated, ridded of bedbugs and converted into a spiffy new apartment block.

Many of the Madison's new tenants will come from Siloam Mission's emergency shelter on Princess Street. Perras says many people sleep at Siloam Mission because their apartments are bedbug-infested, dilapidated or next door to dangerous people. "These are people who are paying for housing elsewhere and are afraid to go home," he says. They are able to live on their own but need a safe, clean home to move into.

By the end of next year Siloam hopes to have moved 30 people from its shelter into apartments at the Madison. Siloam will hire 10 staff for the building, including a transitional services coordinator who will help people transition out of homelessness. Since the Madison will be a dry establishment, all of its new tenants will be expected to abstain from alcohol and illegal drugs.

The building's current residents will keep living in the building under the terms of their leases. No one will be forced to throw out their alcohol, says Perras. Instead they'll be asked to keep it in their rooms and not to offer it to incoming tenants. Siloam plans to renovate the building one floor at a time so no one has to move out during the construction.

Robert Scherbain is cautiously optimistic about the coming changes. He moved into the Madison nine months ago, keeps his tiny room organized and says he hasn't touched alcohol since he decided to quit drinking a couple of years ago. Occasionally he has to step over someone passed out in a hallway, but overall he says he feels relatively safe in the building and likes the friendly Wolseley neighourhood.

Though he's not complaining, Scherbain says he'd welcome a few more shower stalls. Right now the building has only two. The rest of the building's shared bathrooms only have old bathtubs.

Renovating and furnishing the building will cost about $1.5 million. Siloam is working with a group of funders to cover the purchase cost and renovations.

New tenants will pay $260 per month in rent. That's affordable for anyone who receives the $285 monthly rent allowance provided by social assistance.

The Madison will operate on about $600,000 per year. Siloam will contribute $144,000 in the first year, but after that revenue from rent should cover the building's yearly operating costs, says Perras. "Our goal is to create a model. If someone gives us a building that's debt free and adequate for people to live in we can run it without going to people for operating money."

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