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CBC News

Waterloo church opens recovery home after year of delays
Opening “like a miracle” according to church member Karen Dixon

Melanie Ferrier · CBC NewsFebruary 5, 2017

The yellow brick duplex behind Emmanuel United Church has been converted into a home for women recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. (Emmanuel United Church)

The unassuming yellow brick of the duplex behind Emmanuel United Church conceals a construction project that has consumed the lives of a handful of Waterloo residents for the past 13 months.

Now, more than a year after announcing its plan to turn the duplex into a home for women recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, the church is just days away from seeing that dream come true.

“It’s like a miracle, almost,” says Karen Dixon, a church member and one of the eight people who spearheaded the construction project. “Every day I go in and I see progress. We’re putting the pretty in right now. The house is going to be far more beautiful than my house will ever be!”

Opening day pushed back

Renovations on the century-old duplex began in December 2015 and were originally expected to be complete by summer 2016, but quickly ran into delays.

‘ We may talk about delays, but they’re nothing compared to the generosity of the community.’- Karen Dixon, church member

The entire project was put on hold for a number of months when the City of Waterloo’s heritage committee insisted the church restore, rather than replace, the building’s heritage windows.

In the end, the church was allowed to replace the windows, but the delay was the first in a line of dominoes to topple.

“We were supposed to be working on this … during the winter, when the [professional construction] trades are less busy, but we ended up doing most of the work when the trades were at the top of their game. So, it was very difficult to get the trades in when we needed them,” Dixon says.

Experts donated time, material

“But I’m not complaining about that, because I don’t think there was a trade that didn’t give us such a serious discount or do it for free. We could never have done this project if the trades had not stepped in.”

Dixon says plumbers, electricians, masons, carpenters and other trades workers were so generous with their time that the renovations projected to cost $350,000, ended up costing $200,000 instead.

“I can’t emphasize enough how many people took this project to their heart and really stepped up. We may talk about delays, but they’re nothing compared to the generosity of the community.”

‘In dire need of everything’

One person chiefly responsible for that generosity, according to Dixon, is contractor Jamie Oliver, of Integral Homes in Waterloo.

It was his lawyer — a member of Emmanuel United Church — who got him involved in the project.

‘ I think we had a little divine intervention here in order for this to come out the way it has.’- Jamie Oliver, contractor

“Being a good lawyer, he now says he never asked me,” Oliver says with a laugh. “He says he told me about it, and I volunteered. So, that’s perfect.”

Oliver immediately reached out to local subcontractors, some of whom he’s been working with for 30 years, and was pleased to hear that all of them were willing to help out.

But he says that when he saw the building for the first time, he did wonder what he had gotten himself into.

“This home was in dire need of everything. I guess my first impression was if we didn’t have a historic designation, it might be best if we just bulldozed it and cleared off the site and built something brand new.”

‘Divine intervention’

Instead, he says the construction crews were able to maintain the historic appearance of the building from the outside, while rebuilding everything “from scratch” on the inside.

‘It’s really quite an accomplishment for a faith family to take this on and do it.’- Rev. Bruce Sweet

“This came together as well as it could possibly come together, but I think we had a little divine intervention here in order for this to come out the way it has.”

The duplex on Dorset Street is no stranger to divine intervention, being purchased by the church in the 1970s, reportedly for $1.

Rev. Bruce Sweet says it was used for Sunday school, office space and storage, as well as a variety of other purposes. More recently the church rented out the space to paying tenants.

When it became clear that the building needed major renovations, the church decided to convert the space into a home for women recovering from alcohol and drug addictions.

3½ years of hard work

Sweet selected seven members of his church to help him oversee the project, including Karen Dixon and the lawyer who recruited Jamie Oliver.

The group began meeting two years before renovations started, getting together every Thursday at 5:00 p.m.

Now that the project is finished, Sweet says everyone feels ecstatic.

“I think it’s really quite an accomplishment for a faith family to take this on and do it,” he says. “I like to tell people it’s been three-and-a-half years, but it only feels like seven, because it’s been a lot of work.”

Open house Feb. 9 2017

Sweet admits that when they started the project, the members of the committee were “a bit naive,” thinking it would be finished quickly, but even through the delays and missed deadlines they didn’t get discouraged.

“We knew one way or another we were going to get through any kind of delay and that we didn’t want to lose hope,” he says. “I think being able to talk with each other helped to keep things in perspective.”

That said, Sweet is happy that the project is finally finished and will be glad to see the first six residents move into the duplex the third week in February.

An open house is planned for Feb. 9, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tours will start in the foyer of the church, located at 22 Bridgeport Rd. W. in Waterloo.



The Record

Vera’s Place offers a supportive home for women recovering from substance abuse, a place where they can restart their lives.

“They’re really on their way home,” said Rev. Bruce Sweet, minister of Emmanuel United Church. “This provides a safe, dry environment.”

Vera’s Place emerged from a partnership between Emmanuel United and the House of Friendship, with plenty of support from the community.

“This is not a church project. This is a community project,” said Karen Dixon, committee member and co-ordinator.

Emmanuel United owned a duplex in Waterloo, which had been used by the church and then rented out, but the 110-year-old building was deteriorating and essentially needed to be gutted with new electrical, plumbing and insulation added.

A fundraising campaign was started in late 2015 with a $350,000 goal for renovations.

“So much of it came from beyond the church,” Sweet said.

The campaign kicked off with a $100,000 donation from Bob and Judy Astley. The name is in memory of Judy’s mother Vera Armour, who raised four children in Waterloo Region and believed in supporting women on their life journey.

Just shy of $300,000 has been raised in cash, and tradespeople generously donated time and materials to transform the Dorset Street home.

“We could have never done this without the in-kind donations,” Dixon said.

Work began last spring, with some delays due to heritage issues.

The House of Friendship recommended making it a dry house for women because while there are dry houses in the region for men, there aren’t any spots for women.

The House of Friendship will take over once the women move in, running programs and helping the women move onto the next step.

Rent will be below market value, and subsidized by Thresholds Homes and Supports Inc., formerly Waterloo Regional Homes for Mental Health.

The official open house is on Feb. 9, and then the women will begin moving in the following week. Each side of the duplex has room for three women, who can stay up to 364 days.

“It gives them a space apart,” Sweet said.

And that space is vital to continue recovery.

“Unless someone has stable housing, you cannot deal with other problems,” Sweet said.

Emmanuel United knows about the need for supportive housing firsthand. It operates a drop-in centre called Bridgeport Café, which opens three afternoons a week to offer food, warmth and community to the homeless or marginally housed.

After years of work, the volunteers are thrilled the home is almost ready to open its doors to vulnerable women in need.

“Really delighted that it’s come together so beautifully,” Dixon said.

“We’re quite happy that we were able to do this,” Sweet added. , Twitter: @WeidnerRecord

Waterloo Chronicle

Welcome home to Vera’s Place

Emmanuel United Church plans to open Waterloo Region’s first dry house for women

NEWS Dec 09, 2015 by James Jackson  Waterloo Chronicle

Karen Dixon is a member of the committee helping to make Vera’s Place, a dry house for women in an old duplex at 55-57 Dorset St., a reality. – James Jackson photo

The paint inside the yellow-brick home at 55-57 Dorset St. is peeling and the plaster is falling down, the walls are full of holes and the front entrance is overgrown with weeds. But in just a few short months, Emmanuel United Church hopes to turn the deteriorating duplex into a safe place for vulnerable women recovering from substance abuse.

The rental property, owned by the church since 1971 and vacant for the past two years, will be transformed into Vera’s Place — a dry house to help women battling addictions do so in a safe, welcoming space.

“We talked to a few different organizations, and as we got together they identified a real need in the community was a dry house for women,” said Rev. Bruce Sweet of Emmanuel United.

There are currently three dry houses for men in Kitchener but none for women, so the church partnered with the House of Friendship and the Working Centre to establish the region’s first dry house for women, where drugs and alcohol will be strictly forbidden.

It is named after Vera Armour, who raised four children in Waterloo Region and died in 2009 at the age of 90. She had a life-long belief in caring for women and her daughter, Judy Astley, donated $100,000 with her husband Bob to kickstart the fundraising drive for the house.

“It makes so much sense to repurpose an unused building owned by the church to help women in our community,” said Judy, a former United church minister, in an email to the Chronicle last week.

The church estimates it will cost about $350,000 to gut and renovate the home. Their plan is to have three bedrooms, a shared kitchen and shared social space available in each half of the duplex when it opens in about six months.

The church originally bought the house for $1 and used it for Sunday school before renting it to church staff.

“It’s not quite a gut job, but almost,” said Karen Dixon, a member of the steering committee leading the charge on the project. “Wiring, plumbing, kitchens, bathrooms, the plaster is falling off the walls, new heating, new windows, new doors.

“The roof and the exterior are good, but the rest is not so good.”

The church will essentially act as the landlord and plans to charge the women rent to help cover maintenace costs as well as hydro and water.

They haven’t determined the rental rate yet, but it will “definitely be below market rent,” said Dixon.

The House of Frienship and the Working Centre will determine who will live in the house and provide support for the women.

Vera’s Place fills a gap in the community, said House of Friendship Executive Director John Neufeld.

“The need for this kind of transitional housing has been known by our team members in our addictions program, our shelter program and our outreach workers,” he said.

“There’s no way we would have been able to provide (this housing). It’s just another example of how our faith communities are stepping up.”

More than two years ago, Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener launched a dry house pilot project for men, which has since expanded to two additional sites. Between nine and 12 men are in the dry house program at a time.

While Neufeld said it’s hard to know exactly how many women will use the service, he doesn’t expect it will be too difficult to fill the six spots at Vera’s Place.

They’re also working out the details of how they’ll choose women to live in the home and for how long they’ll be there, but Neufeld said transitioning from a life of addiction to one of recovery is a vulnerable time, making transitional housing such as Vera’s Place critical.

“When we make a major life transition we all need a lot of support, so I don’t think it’s vulnerability just because of addiction,” he said.

“Unfortunately for some individuals struggling with addiction they don’t have that support network around them … there’s a lot more vulnerability, for sure.”

The church is currently working on organizing fundraising opportunities to raise the approximately $250,000 they need to complete the work, and are looking for the public’s help to make it a reality.

Neufeld said community collaboration is vital in order to make projects like this a reality. “None of us can do this on our own,” he said.

For more information or to make a donation, visit  or call 519-886-1471.

Download the Vera’s Place brochure

Ways to Help Vera’s Place

1. Create a “Welcome” package for a new tenant. This is a basket (or other container) that is full of personal care items for each woman as she enters the home. It should include such items as:

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hairbrush and or comb
  • Robe and Slippers
  • Body wash and or Face wash
  • Journal and pen
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • A note to say “Welcome” and “We are thinking of you while on your Journey”

2. Give a monetary donation of $300 to Sponsor A Room. This will provide a complete new set of bed linens for a bedroom as each woman arrives to Vera’s Place. It includes:

  • Duvet and Cover (to match each room)
  • 2 sets of sheets
  • Pillows
  • Towels (again to match the room)
  • Mattress pad
  • Bed skirt

Please include a note about yourself or your group that will be given to each person.

3. Make a quilt for a woman to keep as she continues on her journey toward sobriety.

4. Give a monetary donation that will be used for the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of the building – it is 110 years old.

Donate Now Through!

Or, mail a cheque made out to “Emmanuel United Church” marked “Vera’s Place” to:
Emmanuel United Church
22 Bridgeport Rd W,
Waterloo, ON N2L 2Y3

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