In November 2002, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto opened Fontbonne Place, an apartment building designed to respond to the needs of older, single women who do not have a home, are in danger of losing their home, or are living in an untenable situation. Our apartment units provide affordable rent-geared-to-income housing, and the chance to build community with other residents.
We see the change not only in how lovingly some residents tend to the front garden but also in the friendships among the women.
— Sr. Gwen Smith, CSJ
A Need Identified
At our gathering of 1998, we developed what we call our “Shared Ministerial Commitment”: to nurture community with the groups most in need. Our needs assessment pointed out the lack of affordable housing in Toronto. We saw that single women between the ages of 40 to 60 were vulnerable. Many were either homeless, under-housed, in danger of losing housing, or living in an untenable situation.
Our mission became apparent: to respond to this unmet need with a building and programs.
Our building at 791 Queen Street East, formerly St. Michael's Broadview Clinic, had become vacant. Since it belonged to the Sisters, they were asked at a 1999 town hall meeting what they wished the space to be used for. "Affordable housing!" was their clear response. We began to work.
To make room for our dream of affordable housing, two stories were added to the existing main floor space and basement. This renovation and expansion allowed for the creation of 18 housing units, and an additional unit was designated for Sisters, so we could continue to be a presence in the building.
A Community Formed
It’s important to know that the Fontbonne Place housing units take up only 60% of the space, while the remaining 40% is reserved as a community space to fulfill our commitment to nurturing community. This space is home to ministries like Mustard Seed and In Good Company, which continue to grow and develop.
From the onset, we have been open to using the space for other community activities and often host guests for various community meetings and forums. The building also houses a dental clinic run by the Toronto Board of Public Health, providing dental care to children and seniors on a limited income.
We invited our friends and partners to the official opening and blessing of Fontbonne Place on March 19, 2003. In an article published that day in The Toronto Star, journalist Joe Fiorito wrote,
“I didn’t have any furniture. I had some clothes and shampoo. There was a bucket of welcome stuff – tissues, tea bags, coffee, cream and sugar – waiting when I got here. The first thing I did, I sat down in the living room and cried. Then I made a cup of tea. And I must have put my key in the lock five or six times to make sure it fit.”
Gail M. had just moved into a one-bedroom apartment. It was clean and new, and it was hers; she had a lease to prove it. But she hadn't had a place of her own in years, and it seemed too good to be true.
It took her a few days to work up the nerve to check out the neighbourhood – the deli down the block, the bookstore and the second-hand shops across the street – because she couldn't shake the notion that someone would change the lock on her door while she was out....
Fontbonne Place opens officially this morning. Which means that officially, this morning, there are 18 fewer homeless women in Toronto.
At that time the 18 units had their first tenants, and many of them are still with us. Today, Fontbonne Place hums with activity and action. Sister Delphine Fontbonne would be proud.
Are you in need of housing,
or do you know someone in need?
Please visit the Fontbonne Ministries website to learn more about Fontbonne Place — including whether there are currently any vacancies, the requirements for prospective residents, a description of the apartments and amenities, and contact information.