“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
I spent a considerable amount of time in the downtown core as the daughter of a local business owner, and now, as a young professional, not only do I work downtown, but I live downtown as well.
I guess you could say, that in almost thirty years, I have become increasingly invested in the health and wellness of the area. None of us are immune to the many issues our beautiful downtown is facing, but I have recently witnessed the housing issues first-hand and the need for safe and affordable housing is a very real and growing crisis. The increasing number of displaced individuals cannot be swept aside, and, for anyone concerned with the economic state and potential capability of the downtown core, this is an issue that must be addressed.
The average rent for a two bedroom apartment is at an alarming $1107.00 per month right now (rentjungle.com), and mid-to-moderate income families are facing desolate situations. Bethlehem Housing and Support Services have been working tirelessly since its official inception in 1988 to nurture the personal growth of families and individuals in Niagara. This organization has been able to encourage personal development and prosperity to the most vulnerable in our city through affordable housing and other focused services.
Bethlehem Housing and Support Services provide transitional housing to their clients and offer dedicated meetings with support workers, access to support groups, and workshops that help develop important life skills. Once residents move out of the transitional housing program, they are guided to support groups that are available on a more permanent basis throughout the region.
In partnership with PennTerra Group and FirstOntario Credit Union, Bethlehem Housing and Support Services have been constructing a brand new 127 unit building in downtown St. Catharines, located at 111 Church St. in St. Catharines. This much-needed building will also offer on-site support services, a daycare facility, as well as a naturalized play area. With over 5,500 people currently on the waitlist for affordable housing, this building could not be coming at a better time.
But, as with any large-scale development, Bethlehem Housing and Support Services cannot do this alone.
Lori Beech, Executive Director, called up lines from the Bonnie Tyler song “Holding Out For A Hero” in her riveting call to action during the Housing Hero campaign launch: “I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero til the morning light. He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon and he’s gotta be larger than life.” I had the honor of meeting the current Housing Hero Champions at the campaign launch and they all proved to be larger than life.
Being a Housing Hero means committing yourself to the goal of solving the affordable housing crisis in Niagara. Whether it be through one-time or monthly donations, group fundraising campaigns or hosting fundraising events, Housing Heroes are offering their efforts, time and passion. Bethlehem Housing and Support Services are currently inviting people of all ages and backgrounds to become a Housing Hero.
Ten-year-old Claire and her sister Evelyn, seven, have been Housing Heroes since Claire decided to ask for donations instead of gifts for her eighth Birthday. Juliet Dunn – vocalist, performer and co-creator of the TD Niagara Jazz Festival, uses her beautiful voice to draw attention to the need for affordable housing in her role as a Housing Hero. Jimi Russell – Housing Hero and Niagara’s Selfie King, is using his childhood experience with homelessness as motivation to ensure that children in Niagara can flourish in the safe environment he never had.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put all together that overwhelm the world.”
— Desmond Tutu