As if running a successful towing business for 30 years isn’t time consuming enough, Tammy and Gary Vandenheuvel are dedicating much of their time to supporting the youth who live at Ohana Landing in Sarnia. “Ohana Landing is supportive transitional housing for youth between 16 and 24 years old,” Tammy says. The building was renovated to hold seven self-sufficient apartment units – full apartments with bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms that youth live in. “They learn how to live independently with the assistance of housing support currently provided through Sarnia Lambton Rebound.” 

Tammy and Gary, who operate Preferred Towing, started the process of opening Ohana Landing in 2017. “It was a lengthy process,” Tammy says. “From finding a place to purchase to completing the sale, getting the rezoning from the city, and having a grant application put through. This August it will be two years that we have had youth living there.”

Tammy is passionate about helping troubled youth. “For me it is personal because I was homeless when I was 16 years old,” Tammy says. “It is really scary when you are 16 and put in that situation because you are so vulnerable. I was not worldly and it was scary not knowing what I was going to do. I was housed at the Women’s Interval Home, but that was just temporary. I lived in two different relatives' homes before I went away to London for college.”

Tammy has been a Child and Youth Worker by profession for 35 years. “In order for youth to apply to live at Ohana, they have to meet some criteria,” Tammy says. “One of the criteria is that they are currently homeless or on the verge of being homeless. That could be anything from having been kicked out of their home because they are not getting along with their parents, that their home situation is not good or that they are in an abusive relationship.”

There have been many obstacles to getting Ohana Landing up and running including coming up with $1.8 million to fund it and combating misinformation about homeless youth. “Obviously when you put something like this in a residential neighborhood, there is always some concern from the neighbors because they don’t know what the project is about,” Tammy says. “There is some fear about what kind of people will be living right next to them. We had an open house before any renovations were started with our plans on the walls for people to see. We made the property look beautiful and we haven’t had any complaints.”

Tammy says there are expectations such as participating in programs set up by the housing support worker and weekly unit checks. “The youth need to develop goals and they need to be working towards things like employment or completing their education,” Tammy says. “This opportunity is provided as a hand-up, not a handout. This is where youth get connected to the community and the services they need to improve their situation. Our vision for this project was to provide a safe space for youth to learn how to live on their own with support and get a better start in life.”