It’s a sunny Friday morning in Acton. Across the street the lake is reflecting the sun rays, and trees are swaying gently in the May breeze. It’s a beautiful day, but this is no ordinary Friday morning.
Today, three men will receive the keys to their brand new house.
One year ago, Fatima Roia stood outside the wooden frame of a house in Acton, plastic hoarding wrapped around the exposed edges. It was, at the time, an active construction site. It was the house that was being built for Fatima’s son, Nelson.
When Fatima found out about the house, she almost cried with happiness. “I didn’t have the words to say, ‘Thank you so much,’” she reflected as she stood at the build site.
Nelson is 47 and has autism. Every Friday night, Fatima would drive Nelson from his group home in Georgetown to spend the weekend with her in Acton. But she was elated that, soon, making the journey to visit her son would be as easy as walking down the street. Nelson was excited, too.
“On the weekend when he’s with me and I drive by (the house) he always says, ‘Oh, new house! New house!’” she said.
“She’s so excited to have her son living so close.”
Nelson’s new house was built through a unique partnership between Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga and Community Living North Halton. He would be moving in with three other autistic gentlemen, and the house was built for their specific accessibility needs. This, Fatima says, will make a significant difference in Nelson’s life. As she and her husband age, she says she can take comfort in knowing that Nelson will be living in a safe place.
The ground broke on the construction site, dubbed the Bett-Knowlton build after two hardworking Habitat volunteers, in June 2016. Fatima had been visiting the site eagerly, bringing food and visiting the workers and volunteers.
Greg Edmiston, the Executive Director of Community Living North Halton, noted that Fatima wanted to be part of the excitement. “She’s so excited to have her son living so close and that he’s going to live in a home that works for him.”
The partnership that led to this house began, as so many great things do, with a simple crossing of paths, when Greg met John Gerrard, Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga’s Executive Director, at a local event. Community Living North Halton had always struggled to find the right kind of housing for people, Greg said. As the two began to discuss possibilities, they realized that it would be unique to customize a house to the needs of its inhabitants, instead of asking people adapt to the space they were living in.
“We know just how much our friends at Community Living North Halton do for the members of our community who are in need of support and assistance. For us here at Habitat to be able to step in and give them a helping hand, so that they can continue to give these gentlemen the care and support they require as they grow older, is truly an honour,” John said.
“Acton is open to this; they’re supporting it, they’re helping us build…”
The partnership also fits in perfectly with Habitat’s recent plan to expand relationships in the community. Part of Habitat’s extending of relationships has included an expansion of what a traditional “family” looks like. The men moving into the house, Nelson, Craig and Deon, became friends after living together in Georgetown. They all have varying degrees of autism. Francis was also going to move in with his friends, but he sadly passed away before the completion of the house. His family, Habitat and Community Living will be planting a tree at the house in his honour.
“This is what we strive for these guys; for them to be able to live in a community that accepts them. That’s one of the things we really noticed during this build, is that Acton is open to this; they are supporting it, they’re here helping us build, they’re asking questions about it,” Greg said.
“For guys like the men who are moving in here, to be accepted by your community is huge.”
Slide the vertical bar to see the progress on the house.
Fatima is thankful for the work that both Habitat and Community Living have done together on this project.
“I give my heart to everybody,” she said, standing on the build site that would become her son’s house. “God bless everybody, and please continue to help. It’s not just for my son, it’s not just for the other three; (Habitat helps) a lot of people’s needs.”
Across the street from the shining lake in Acton stands a house. It’s built in an almost zig-zag pattern, painted a grey-blue that catches your eye when you turn the corner onto Mill St. A crowd has gathered around the house, stepping around bundles of blue and green balloons to get a good vantage point of the front door.
Four groups of people cut blue and green ribbons — members of Community Living North Halton, local politicians, the Habitat volunteers who the build was named for and the partner families and, of course, the families.
Cheers erupt when the final ribbon drops. The house is now officially open for the crowd to tour.
But more importantly, it is now no longer only a construction site at the corner of the street by the lake. It is now a safe place for Nelson, Craig and Deon. It is now a place where Nelson can be close to his mother. It is now an accessible space, built specifically for the men who will be living in it.
This house is now a home.