CBC News: Architect donates $3-million building for Edmonton women who are homeless, pregnant

gene-dub

Architect Gene Dub has donated a $3-million building to the Pregnancy Pathways project, for homeless and pregnant women. (CBC)

A  project to help women who are homeless and pregnant in Edmonton has found a home, thanks to the donation of a $3-million building by architect Gene Dub.

Dub has donated a three-storey apartment building in the McCauley neighbourhood to Pregnancy Pathways, a pilot program that will provide housing — and support — to  pregnant homeless women.

“At my stage in life, you’re looking at some way to use whatever you have saved up, and I’ve been lucky in that way, and this just seemed like such a great opportunity,” he said Thursday.

Dub, an award-winning architect best known for designing Edmonton’s city hall, was listening to CBC Radio when he heard about the Pregnancy Pathways project.

It’s a coalition of Edmonton groups that has been working for several years to open an apartment building for women who are homeless and pregnant.

The program will help women access medical care to ensure they have healthy pregnancies. And it will work with them to make decisions about raising their babies, choosing adoption or foster care, or finding other ways to become involved. The idea, however, is to have each woman make that decision herself.

It’s estimated about 100 pregnant women in the city experience homelessness every year. They may not be sleeping on the streets, but rather couch-surfing with friends and bouncing between apartments.

The building is a former hotel at 98th Street and 108th Avenue. More than 100 years old, it has been renovated into apartments.

Capital Region Housing will operate the building, while Pregnancy Pathways will offer the necessary supports.

Greg Dewling, CEO of Capital Region Housing, said his organization was initially thinking about buying the building for the program. But the finances to make it work were almost impossible.

“After hearing about the program, [Dub] called me back and said, ‘Can you make it work if I donated it?’ I almost fell on the floor,” Dewling said.

“In the 40-plus years our housing agency has been in existence, we’ve never had a building donated. It’s very rare.”

Nakoochee and Lilley

Dr. John Lilley talks to Marissa Nakoochee who, 10 years ago, was homeless and pregnant. She found a stable home, and has been a strong supporter of Pregnancy Pathways. (Peter Evans/CBC )

Helping babies succeed

When Dr. John Lilley was working as an anesthesiologist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, he’d see a handful of homeless women give birth every year.

Their housing instability affected both their own health, and their babies.

Many women who lack housing don’t seek prenatal care, because they are focused on finding places to stay or because they know their children will be apprehended if someone in the health care system knows they don’t have a home.

But the lack of medical care can also contribute to premature births and small babies. That’s why helping women to eat well, seek medical care, and get addictions treatment if needed, is so important

“Everyone loves babies and everyone knows infants are very much in need of support,” said Lilley, who is now involved with Pregnancy Pathways.

“We’re helping mothers turn their lives around and babies succeed. And that’s just very heartwarming.”

Pregnancy Pathways is a three-year pilot project, with an expected annual operating budget of $500,000. Major funding has been secured from Merck for Mothers, the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, the provincial government, and the Stollery Community Foundation.

Two women have gone through the prenatal support program already, have delivered their children, and will be among the building’s first tenants for the first year of their babies’ lives.

Dub had the chance recently to see photos of those babies.

“That alone was worth donating the building,” he said.

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