Brandon breaks ground on 24-unit transitional housing space

Southwestern Manitoba’s biggest city broke ground Wednesday on a planned 24-unit transitional housing space for those who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or exiting corrections.

The three-storey building will help people get on their feet by providing a roof and connections to different community agencies, said Ross Robinson, executive director of the John Howard Society of Brandon.

“The goal here is to give people a safe and welcome place to transition from incarceration or life on the street when they’re ready,” Robinson said. “This isn’t an institution.… We have to make it like home so they can stay and learn and absorb and gain all the help that we’re going to give them so they can move out and live the life that they want to live.”

The John Howard Society of Brandon in partnership with Westman Youth for Christ have been working to start construction on the project for about two years on the 300 block of 16th Street North.

To date about $10.6 million has been raised for the project through federal, provincial and municipal funding along with community partnerships and fundraisers, but they still need around $300,000 to complete the building, Robinson said.

Construction is aiming to be completed by June 2025.

The main floor will include space to help residents develop skills while offering access to different resources.  The second floor has 16 small one-bedroom suites and the third floor has eight larger suites with full baths and kitchens for all genders.

Residents will graduate from the second to the third floor as they gain different skills and transition to more independent living.

Matthew Andert says he’s hopeful the transitional housing can have a big impact in Brandon — but only if it receives support from the community.

Andert has been living in Brandon for eight years and is currently staying at the city’s Safe and Warm Shelter.

This past winter he had nowhere to go and ended up getting stuck outside in the extreme cold. His fingers were severely frostbitten, leading to his index finger being removed. 

A man stands in front of a construction site.
Matthew Andert says he thinks transitional housing will help Brandon, as long as it gets community suppot. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

He’s also been in the justice system, recently serving 37 days at the Brandon Correctional Centre. 

Andert said a place for people in need of low-income and transitional housing is badly needed in the city of 54,000.

The number of people experiencing homelessness has been growing, according to Brandon’s Homelessness Individuals and Families Information System — a database that tracks the number of homeless people in the city. 

From November to the end of March 2023, it recorded 401 individuals experiencing homelessness. That number jumped to 521 over the same period in 2024.

“There is a crisis in Brandon and that’s the amount of people who are homeless,” Andert said. “We’re in dire need of this kind of housing. There’s no apartments for the homeless people here in the city.”

By community for the community

The transitional housing project began two years ago when John Howard was asked to build transitional housing after the closure of the YWCA’s Meredith Place in May 2022, Robinson said. The closure left the city without any transitional housing to help people looking to secure permanent housing.

The goal of the John Howard project is to create barrier-free housing that connects residents with social programs and resources, Robinson said.  He says it will take community input to ensure the project is successful and sustainable.

“Everybody has a role to play,” Robinson said. “When we break down those barriers and build those bonds, that’s going to make everything more successful.… We want people to feel part of it.”

Agencies will be able to come to the space and provide support and make the connections available to residents so that when they’re ready to move out of the facility they have the skills to do so, he said.

John Howard is also working with Corrections Canada to ensure it’s a successful halfway house for people getting out of federal incarceration. 

A man in hard hat stands by a construction site.
Board chair Ted Dzogan says the groundbreaking of the transitional housing space marks the halfway point of the project. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

John Howard chair Ted Dzogan says that while for some the groundbreaking may feel like the beginning of the project, it actually marks the midpoint of two years of hard work.

He expects it will be about two more years before they can graduate their first resident from the transitional housing program.

But, he said, it will take the community rallying together to make this possible.

“We are a big tent in which all are welcome to contribute,” Dzogan said. “If you’re looking for an opportunity to build a better future for those that will inherit this place when we are gone, come work with us. We have much to do.”