How to Adapt to Gentrification & Ensure Community Engagement. A Kensington Story.

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

House Santuary is a non-profit coffee shop owned and operated by First Alliance Church. The shop opened its’ doors in 2001, with the aim of being a positive place for community in Kensington. “The thought was to get out there into the neighbourhood and be love and grace,” explained Derrick, the shops Manager.


Tackling the Barriers to Employment

Everyone who comes through the doors is treated equally. One of the first people who walked through their doors, was a man who had been kicked out of every other coffee shop in the neighbourhood. “We gave him an environment to help him re-integrate into the community,” said Derrick.

This isn’t a one-time story. The shop is a place for many others who face barriers to community inclusion and employability.

Skill building and community involvement is at the core of the shop’s mission. House Sanctuary has aided kids in getting off the street through their employee mentorship program that intentionally invests in relationship building and positive enforcement. They’ve also worked closely with the Louis Dean School Discovery Program, that is the program of choice for pregnant and parenting teens. “We want to help kids get behind the counter and  tackle the barriers of employment,” explained Derrick. Many of the kids that have gone through their mentorship program have become full-time hires or have received employment elsewhere.

Adapting to the Changing Community

With well kept sidewalks, hanging flower pots and community art, the neighbourhood has a strong sense of walkability, security and vibrancy. The streets have become more dense with local restaurants, coffee shops and higher end retail stores. With that, the Kensington community has experienced gentrification  and the decline of street people living in the area.  In response, the shop is strategically thinking about how they can engage community while still addressing social injustice. “As the demographic in Kensington changes, what is our role in the community?” Derrick explained their constant reflection.“Kensington has gone through a lot of shifts, where it becomes different things for different communities,” he added. “I want them to care about street people,” Derrick said in regards to the new residents.

Jenessa has been working on this issue since 2008 and is now the Community Manager. She changes their community engagement in response to the changing needs of community.  “We realize there is a different demographic in Kensington so we need to be intentional about our shop and products,” explained Jenessa. For example, she’s done this by changing the interior design, events and altering some of their programs. With menu changes, courtesy of the amazing Jordan Maier.


Jenessa and Derrick see this as both an obstacle and an opportunity since gentrification has brought new assets into the community that could be leveraged. They are conscious of the community changes and accurately responding to them, to appropriately bridge the gap between the different demographics. “Because we want to grow and develop our existing programs. The goal is to partner artists from different demographics,” said Jenessa . That way the responsibility isn’t on the shop to continue to provide support, by the relationships move beyond the walls of the coffee shop and into the community. They also continue to provide their diverse programs for local talent to activate local assets. From showcasing local art in the shop, to hosting AA meetings, to community potlucks, their programs address diverse issues in the community. Finally, they  provide space for local graffiti artists to showcase their art on the back alley wall.


The evolution has happened over the last 10 years, and will continue to happen as neighbouring communities continue to be revitalized. The challenge for them is to keep the culture, and exisiting community engaged, while meeting the needs of the new community. Since change is inevitable, it’s important that community champions such as House Sanctuary play an active role in facilitating that change.

Reciprocal Community Relationships.

Derrick said his greatest experience has been becoming close friends with people he otherwise would not have had a chance to connect with. “I became a guardian to a homeless guy who had a brain injury, I walked with him for nearly a decade and got to see a different side of life that I  wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Derrick said with admiration remembering his past friend.

He continues to build these strong relationships that enrich his life “It’s very reciprocal, as you help people transform they help you transform too,” Derrick said.

Visit the House Coffee Sanctuary website for more information on their community events:



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