Manitoba couple help create safe housing for domestic violence victims; kids aged out of foster care

Foster parents Jamie and Kevin Pfau have set out to help address housing affordability issues in Winnipeg for kids who are too old for foster care and survivors of domestic violence.

Systemic racism and oppression in Manitoba planted the seed, but a cancer diagnosis fast-tracked the growth of an idea into a full-blown passion project.

“When our two oldest boys were aging out of care, and there were really limited options for them to go into safe and affordable housing,” Jamie Pfau said. “We thought then that wow, somebody really needs to create an opportunity for young kids who are aging out of care.”

The couple has five children, fostering for the last 10 years.

Growing up in small towns, Jamie said she and her husband weren’t exposed to the bias and hardships many Manitobans face until they brought in their children.

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Jamie and Kevin Pfau said their drive to make a difference comes from learning about the lives their children lived. /SUPPLIED
Jamie and Kevin Pfau said their drive to make a difference comes from learning about the lives their children lived. /SUPPLIED.

“Our eyes were opened wide, and we recognized the systems and the issues within the systems,” said Jamie.

Becoming vulnerable to the pain and experiences of the children they were raising is what Jamie said made them want to work toward a resolution.

“I was compelled to go back to school,” Jamie said. “I got my psychology honours degree and then I went right into graduate school, and I’m about to graduate with my masters of social work.”

Kevin has been working towards his bachelors of social work simultaneously and the couple ended up working on a research team together on the topic of domestic violence, which lead to another realization.

Read more: Not enough funding, compliance in Manitoba foster care, says auditor general

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“With that we thought about our affordable housing initiative and thought those two populations are so under served,” Jamie said.

In the summer of 2019, Kevin was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He underwent surgery and he said his recovery process took him well beyond his own healing.

“It was a passion project to do this eventually, but the idea that maybe I could have lost my life sped this project up,” said Kevin.

The Pfaus bought two condos to rent to youth aging out of foster care, and to survivors of domestic violence.

In addition to the purchase, Jamie and Kevin fully furnished both dwellings with help from their community.

“People in the community, not just our friends and family, but people who don’t know us at all have reached out to us and said ‘hey do you need a couch… do you need pots and pans’,” Jamie said.

The Pfaus said they wanted to provide nice furniture to give the new owners the dignity they deserve. /SUPPLIED
The Pfaus said they wanted to provide nice furniture to give the new owners the dignity they deserve. /SUPPLIED.

The first walk-through took place Monday with a mother who survived domestic violence.

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“Seeing her see the unit, through tears, she told us that this is the nicest place she’s ever lived,” Jamie said.

She said part of their action plan to make a difference in Manitoba led them to further their education in social work.

“[Support] doesn’t have to come from the government, it doesn’t have to be top-down,” said Jamie. “It can be grassroots, community-based love and support. All the tenants will be paying what they get from EIA or less.”

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To help keep rent costs low, the Pfau’s originally planned to pay for some of the extra costs associated with maintenance of the condos, as well as their utility bills and high-speed internet costs for each unit.

However, after realizing the need for more affordable housing units in the city, they have started a GoFundMe in hopes of being able to cover more costs, so they can continue to expand their project to include more affordable homes.

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“If they donate, that money will go towards maintaining the units that we currently have so that Kevin can focus on saving more money and putting in a down payment for another condo or dwelling,” Jamie said.

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