Although it appeared as if the former Jakobstettel Guesthouse in St. Jacobs would be ending its time as a temporary home for Ukrainian newcomers, that project will continue as the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to the Ukrainian Crisis (WRGR) organization will take over from its previous operators, the Woolwich Community Health Centre.
“We embarked on this as a temporary project, hoping that the war would end and the need for the accommodation would cease. That is not the case, of course,” said WCHC executive director Rosslyn Bentley.
“We just don’t want to be in a situation where we can’t provide the support in the same way as we have been doing until today,” said Bentley, noting that the centre has other projects that it is focusing on, including a new clinic in Wellesley.
While housing is not normally under the health centre’s purview, having stable housing is a key social determinant of health, Bentley said.
“Especially for newcomers, we know that getting people into stable housing is one of the first steps to them putting down roots and feeling connected to the community.”
The guesthouse provides temporary housing for three months, along with English lessons and supports the newcomers in their search for employment. Since it opened in July 2022 it has hosted 20 families and more than 50 individuals. While the health centre employed two Ukrainians, Andrew Shulhin and Mariia Mamaisur, as onsite administrators, that portion of the project has ended with the switch.
The WRGR group, which is set to take the reins on Saturday, is well equipped to do so, said Bentley, noting that its strength comes from its ability to engage community members.
“This was part of the dream that Clint Rohr, with Woolwich Healthy Communities, had, trying to establish the Jakobstettel house as a space for newcomers to engage the community very directly in providing that support. It’s so flexible and very authentic and so genuine. People’s hearts are really wanting to help. And when you see a neighbour in need, it makes so much difference,” she said.
“The Grassroots’ ability to galvanize the community to be volunteer hosts in people’s homes has been very successful.”
This will be the seventh such location WRGR will run, said group co-founder Stephanie Goertz, adding there is still a huge demand for temporary housing for Ukrainians coming to the region.
“What people have to realize is that this is not going to stop or slow down the demand; the need for housing is going to be significant, especially there might be people that were staying in Ukraine, because they thought the war might end and have used up all their money.”
Locations like the guesthouse are key because Ukrainian newcomers are not given refugee status, Goertz said.
“Ukrainians are coming into this country with absolutely no support, and they fall into the cracks.”
The organization does not receive any government funding and is completely supported by individual donors.
“The fact that we’ve been able to raise this much money and do all this from individual donations has been absolutely amazing.…But we do need some larger businesses, to recognize the impact we’re having in our local communities and to reach out to us to offer support,” Goertz said.
WRGR is also looking for volunteers to help write grant proposals to apply for government funding, she explained.
“It’s a lot of strain on individual citizens, when there should be much more pressure on our municipal, federal and provincial governments to fund these locations. We just need help to apply for funding. There have been so many opportunities for people to come forward, landlords and property owners have come forward to allow us to use their spaces. We don’t want to turn away these spaces because it’s a shame [if we do].”
The guesthouse will operate for as long as the funding allows, Goertz explained.
Any donations that remain unspent after the health centre has paid the last of its bills at the house will be transferred to WRGR, Bentley said.
“So we don’t want to discourage people from continuing to support because obviously the project is going to continue, but we will make sure that those dollars continue to help the running of the house as they were originally donated for,” she said.