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Sarnia tow truck operators behind new housing project for homeless youth


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11 young people will be housed in former ABC daycare site on London Road

Young people struggling with homelessness in Sarnia will soon have a chance to rent their own affordable apartment.


This summer, a transitional affordable housing project for 16 to 24 year olds in need is expected to open on the site of the former ABC daycare on London Road.


The project is the brainchild of Tammy Vandenheuval and her husband Gary, owners of Preferred Towing, a towing company in Sarnia. 


"The biggest reason why my heart is into this is because I experienced homelessness when I was 16," Vandenheuval told Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre, adding she was on her own for a month before finding a place with relatives.

"It was very scary."


The Vandenheuvals have received a grant from the County of Lambton for the project, with the rest of the money coming from fundraising efforts and the couple's own funds.


The building will have seven units, with three being single-occupant, and the remainder double.


"In our area, [homelessness among youth] is quite prevalent," Vandenheuval said. "It's very hard for youth to find an apartment where someone will rent to them ... some youth [end up living in] places that should not be occupied."


The final price tag of the project is expected to be $1.5 million.




Building help for homeless youth

A transitional, affordable housing project for 16-24-year-olds should be up and running by the summer, if all goes well, says one of the people making it happen.


A transitional, affordable housing project for 16- to 24-year-olds should be up and running by the summer, if all goes well, says one of the people making it happen.


“In hindsight it really has been moving along quickly,” said Tammy Vandenheuvel.


She and husband Gary contracted renovations in December at the former ABC Daycare on London Road.


Gutted, with new heating and cooling, plumbing has been mostly completed, and drywall is about halfway there on the eventual seven-apartment affordable rental building for youth, Vandenheuvel said.


Bouyed by a $980,000 transitional housing grant from the province, by way of Lambton County, the $1.5-million project is about helping homeless youth turn their lives around, said Vandenheuvel.

She was homeless at age 16, she said.


“It was scary back then, and that’s why this is such a big deal for me, why I’ve been pushing so hard and why we really put ourselves on the line for this project.”


Vandenheuvel, one among dozens of community partners helping guide the Rebound-directed Hub at St. Luke’s United Church, said the not-for-profit, yet-unnamed housing project is under contract for 20 years to offer housing at rates 20 per cent below market value.


There are three single and four double apartments being built, she said, in the transitional housing model. Transitional generally means tenants stay between 12 months and three years, city planner Max Williams said in November 2017, when city council granted rezoning for the project.


Between then and now has been taken up with getting drawings completed and obtaining the building permit, Vandenheuvel said.


They’re also appealing to youth for suggestions to name the building, she said.


The housing is expected to help youth build up credit and learn life skills, she said, noting residents would receive government funding that would go towards rent.


The Vandenheuvels and the county are still working out how they’ll evaluate applications, she said.

“(Youth) have to be ready for it,” she said.


“They have to be the right fit because we want them to be successful.”


There’ll be no on-site supervision, she said, but Rebound has funding for housing support – checking in on tenants, making sure they’re going to programs and helping them with cooking, cleaning and other general living skills, Vandenheuvel said.


Hub partners have also agreed to keep the resource centre located at St. Luke’s United Church, Vandenheuvel and Carrie McEachran, executive director at Rebound, said.


There was debate previously about moving the Hub to the housing complex.


The basement in the three-storey structure at 811 London Rd. was being eyed as a common area, but is being left now until another tenant can be found, Vandenheuvel said.


Community support has been strong, Vandenheuvel said. Many have offered to help.


“We hopped into this because we wanted to do something good for the community, but really had no idea what we were getting into,” she said.


It’s also positive to see partnership with the two-year-old Hub, she said, as housing for 16-24-year-olds was always part of the vision for the drop-in and support service centre.


“I was part of that committee and we talked about it over and over again, and we heard from youth coming out, ‘I didn’t have a place to sleep last night,’” Vandenheuvel said.


“It just, it broke my heart.”


Those testimonials are what spurred her to create the transitional housing, she said.


“I thought ‘We have to do this. We have to take the leap of faith because nobody else is.’”




Yes, you know them from Heavy Rescue 401



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