Former Church In Leamington To Serve New Purpose

Work is expected to start in early April to transform St. Joseph's Church in Leamington into a hub for homeless youth.

The upstart non-profit called Building Bridges — made up of local community leaders — bought the former church for just under $700,000 in January.

Board of Directors Chair George Bergen says the goal is to add a big kitchen, a laundromat and showers to give young people a place to go when there's no where else to turn.

Bergen says it was at meeting put on by Leamington District Secondary School where the group first learned there were more than 100 homeless youth in Leamington alone.

"Many kids are being forced to traffic drugs or sell their bodies just for a place to stay," says Bergen. "We just felt, you know, first of all when you're already struggling to make ends meet and then you have to deal with these types of people — it just broke our hearts."

Bergen says Building Bridges is made up of concerned citizens including a social worker, a realtor and a retired banker who wanted to find a way to help. He says something has simple as regular meals or a regular place to sleep can make a world of difference.

"We want to make sure that they not only stay in school or go back to school, but also can have partnerships to get into the workplace. Otherwise, they're going to have a very difficult time in getting back on their feet. That's our goal — we're here to help them get back on their feet," says Bergen.

The group has been able to partner with the public high school, the Leamington District Memorial Hospital, along with the municipality and the ACCESS Leamington Youth Centre to move the initiative forward.

Bergen says an open house is tentatively set for April 19 at LDSS to share the group's vision with the community.