John Neufeld leads House of Friendship’s
multi-faceted program
By Paul Knowles
House of Friendship has come a long, long way since its founding in 1939 – but current Executive Director John Neufeld will tell you there is still a long, long way to go. It’s not that Neufeld is unaware of the amazing contributions of his facility – in fact, he’ll tell you that today, “we’re serving 43,000 people, with 170 team members, 1,000 volunteers, and 20 programs,” with a total budget of about $9 million. But Neufeld and his colleagues are face to face with the key social problems haunting the communities of Waterloo Region. They are working hard to be part of the solution – and their efforts were recognized in very tangible form near the end of 2017.

House of Friendship received
the largest chunk of $1.3 million
in funding given to
Waterloo Region, as part of
Ontario’s strategy to
prevent opioid addiction
and overdose.

One of Neufeld’s top-of-mind concerns is the opioid crisis that is scarring the souls of communities across Canada. In November, House of Friendship received the largest chunk of $1.3 million in funding given to Waterloo Region, through the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integrated Network, as part of Ontario’s strategy to prevent opioid addiction and overdose. House of Friendship received $809,800 for programs including day treatment and outreach for pregnant women struggling with substance abuse; residential addictions treatment expansion and enhancement; and two new Rapid Access Addiction Clinics, intended to serve residents across the Region. The Rapid Access Clinics will be located in Kitchener and Cambridge, and each will be staffed with an addictions physician, peer support worker and counsellor with expertise in community withdrawal management. Each clinic will operate two days a week within the two communities.
That’s a work in progress – and one possible solution to one of the greatest social problems facing the community.

But House of Friendship is by no means a one-issue organization. Neufeld and his team tackle almost every kind of social issue. Their commitment to helping was recognized in 2017 when House of Friendship was a recipient of a Waterloo Region Newcomer Landlord Award. They were honoured for a collaborative venture: House of Friendship, Reception House Waterloo Region and the Kiwanis Club of Kitchener-Waterloo came together in 2016 to repurpose a house that had previously been used to support youth in the Waterloo Region community. Neufeld said at the time, “We need to all work together collaboratively to try to find unique housing options for the many different individuals and families our organizations serve.”

Reflecting the sobering reality
that struggles with addiction
are “close to home”
for everyone

Another immediate issue faced by House of Friendship is the need for “dry houses” for men and woman recovering from addictions. In 2017, they began providing the program at Vera’s Place, a residential dry house for women, in a home owned by Emmanuel United Church in Waterloo.

Today, House of Friendship is well into a $3 million campaign to fund a new dry house for men, in Cambridge, in the facility once occupied by Haven House. Neufeld told Exchange that the project is “getting strong support. We’re 75% toward our goal. We’re really encouraged.”

The project has not been without its challenges; a Cambridge resident took up a petition against the dry house, which Neufeld describes as “an on-line petition with incorrect information.” In late November, Neufeld and his colleagues attended Cambridge City Council, which rejected the complaint and re-affirmed its full support for the project. The fundraising campaign is dubbed “Close to Home” – not referring to House of Friendship as “Home”, but reflecting the sobering reality that struggles with addiction are “close to home” for everyone.

Amazingly, those projects are just the recently-prominent tip of the iceberg compared to everything that goes on at House of Friendship.
The founders of House of Friendship were women – a group who met around a kitchen table, in 1939.
The original purpose was to create a feeding program for men left destitute during the Depression. That outreach led quickly to providing sleeping accommodations for the men.

Those services continue to this day – the men’s hostel still provides shelter for 51 men each night, and House of Friendship has also developed supportive housing facilities including Eby Village, Charles Village and Cramer House – but so much more has been added as well, from emergency food baskets, to a unique appliance repair program that does 600 calls annually, to summer camps for kids.

There is always something new – House of Friendship is now the lead agency for the Family Outreach Program, providing services to families with children living with low income. Neufeld calls this program “a game-changer for us,” and explains: “We are seen as more of a Kitchener program, but we have boots on the ground in every low-income area of the region,” working in community centres and local social service outlets, both in the cities and in the townships. The goal is to meet needs, right across the region. “If you’re struggling,” says Neufeld, “where you live really doesn’t matter to us.”

Neufeld and his teams at times see some of the worst things happening in the Region. But he looks at it from a different perspective: “I think the House of Friendship is a reflection of the best of Waterloo Region… doing whatever it takes to serve my neighbour.”

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ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2017.