Finding Free Tax Help in Covid-19

Having your taxes up to date is incredibly important in order to access a host of benefits and governmental helps.  This is especially true for Seniors and low-income people and families.

Providing help on this front has proven quite challenging and many faith-based institutions have had to cancel their free tax clinics this year, but some have found a way to carry this work forward navigating the Covid-19 restrictions.

During the Covid-19 crisis, Interfaith Housing Initiative has been working with a few partners who work to serve immigrants in drawing together a strong list of places you can go for help here in the Edmonton area.  You can read the list we’ve put together here:

Free Tax clinics in Covid – May 21, 2020

We found a pretty strong group of organizations who have found a way, and provide help to all kinds of folks; including newcomer families, peoples with disabilities, seniors, homeless neighbours.   Please share this list with anyone looking for this help.

We update this list weekly to keep it current!


Additional public resources:

For new updates to available resources in the Edmonton area, you can also phone 211.

The Government of Canada also provides some resources and instruction on how to do your taxes at the following link:  Filing Taxes

 

Loving Neighbours in the Crisis of Covid-19

As the whole world grapples with new realities forced on us by the Coronavirus, a growing movement of people in every country are intentionally exploring how we can love each other in the face of this crisis.  This question is of course front and centre for all of us who are people of faith.

When Edmonton’s Interfaith Housing Initiative first formed, we signed on to a joint statement that says,
“Our religious and spiritual communities share important values: respect for human dignity, solidarity with those who are poor and vulnerable, and an affirmation of the importance of inclusive and welcoming communities where individuals and families can thrive.”  From CRIHI’s Interfaith Statement (2011)

In times of crisis (such as war, famine, disease) a society experiences new and terrible pressures that strain resources and relationships.  The poor, the powerless and the vulnerable tend the suffer the most severely.  Communities can become paralyzed by fear and no longer welcoming to the stranger.  Human dignity too can be surrendered with people lost in a creeping darkness.

But there is always choice when the darkness comes.  We can either shut everything down and curse the darkness, or we can choose to (in ways large or small) be a source of light.  If we study any of the great pandemics and times of devastation in human history, we will always find these people of light.  They quietly moved among the sick and despondent in the death camps of the holocaust or in the devastation of terrible plagues.  They put the well-being of others before their own, even risking themselves for the good of another; not without precautions or foolishly putting others at risk, but by finding ways to care for people in the midst of a terrible struggle..

Today, those places of darkness are most often in our living rooms and those of our neighbours.  It takes the form of loneliness, stress and anxiety, depression, fear, or any of the many challenges that when people experience a decline in basic supports mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Social distancing is without question, the most effective way to slow the virus and protect our most vulnerable.  But in and around that we need to find ways to care for each other.  To help us do that, Interfaith Housing Initiative is glad to provide a postcard to help people gently make those local connections with neighbours.  Our postcard is inspired by and in line with that shared in the #viralkindness movement which began in Australia.  We have added prayer to the list as an important way we can provide spiritual care for each other as neighbours.


Please feel free to download and share this resource with your faith communities.  Caring for each other where we are and sharing our life and resources (even from a distance) is a powerful way to protect the life and health of ourselves and our neighbours.  It also helps take some of the burden off our emergency service providers.

A download of the file is available at the following link:  Neighbouring with Covid

We recommend the following as a way to encourage Neighbouring in your faith community:

  1. Print off cards and deliver them in a batch of ten to twenty to members of your faith community.
  2. Make the file available to people via email so that they can print off more as need be, or share with people in their circle (friends, families or neighbours) who would like to practice this as well.
  3. Encourage everyone who uses the cards to see this as a way to form simple, supportive, caring relationships with their neighbours.

May this tool serve us well on our collective path of love and service to each other as neighbours,

From all of us at Edmonton’s Interfaith Housing Initiative

Interfaith Habitat Works Project 2020 – Cancelled for Covid 19

Hello everyone.  Unfortunately we have to cancel this year’s Interfaith Habitat Works Project.  Habitat for Humanity has had to make some tough decisions around volunteering and how they can do that moving forward.

Please let’s keep each other in prayer as we find our way through this difficult time.  We look forward to continuing this important Interfaith collaboration in early 2021.


You can see updates from Habitat for this project at:  https://www.hfh.org/interfaith/

Understanding Harm Reduction and Abstinence – Learnings from our public conversation

On November 19, 2019 Edmonton’s Interfaith Housing Initiative hosted a public conversation on harm reduction and abstinence at Beth Israel Synagogue on Edmonton’s west side.

Our shared goal was to come to a shared understanding of how harm reduction and abstinence approaches work to support a person with an addiction on their road to recovery.

We heard from people with lived experience of addictions at various stages in their recovery; speaking to their story and what was helpful or unhelpful to them along the way.

We heard from professionals in the field overseeing addictions work in a supportive housing facility or in abstinence-based treatment programs, and those working as peer support workers with both experience and a positive view of both harm reduction and abstinence-based approaches.

And we heard from each other as participants, together seeking wisdom on how to walk with, support and encourage loved ones on a painful and difficult journey.

The bottom line in our learning together:

Treating harm reduction and abstinence approaches as polarized extremes is unhelpful.  Both approaches are important and necessary to support a person with an addiction; even helping someone at different stages of their journey, and both work toward the same goal: the healing and restoration of the person.


Please note: This discussion focused less on harm reduction and abstinence practices in Emergency Response (such as safe injection sites and shelters) and more on Accommodation and Supports (such as affordable and supportive housing) as illustrated below; seeking to learn what best helps people recover from addictions and related concerns.

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The stories we heard showed why both approaches were necessary and helpful in some circumstances.

In the abstinence stream, we heard examples from the drug court, where a person might be unable to visit or regain custody of their child until they were able to stabilize and stay clean of their addiction.  Prison provided some with a wake-up call and set them on a path of abstinence that they were able to maintain on the outside.  We heard about sober-living facilities that provided on-site controls that were both wanted and needed by their residents.  Some supportive housing facilities even had a harm reduction focus but took an abstinence approach on drugs and alcohol.  And too, we heard the need for more such places; housing with supports for people with complex needs that maintained a substance-free environment.

In the harm reduction stream, we heard about a managed alcohol program where participants are given measured amounts of alcohol every few hours to help with their cravings.  Peer support workers talked about building relationships and trust with people to help them succeed one step at a time, in attending dentist appointments and court dates, learning budgeting and self-care, and as they are ready in challenging their addictions.   Permanent Supportive Housing facilities served as another example as their approach helps people who are pretty fragile.  People with a lack of physical or mental health, and facing these in combination with poverty, homelessness and trauma have little strength to tackle something as significant as an addiction.  But provided with safe and stable housing, healthy food, medical care and support workers these folks gradually get stronger.  Many can find the strength to challenge their addictions and become abstinent.


Our keynote speaker, Karen Bruno stressed the need to break from an ‘either this or that’ mentality.  She noted that both philosophies emphasize reducing harm in what someone is experiencing.  She then talked about recovery and medical models.

The recovery model places the individual at the centre of the journey in setting goals and making decisions.  They are encouraged to make goals, supported in reaching them, and constantly challenged to reach higher and pursue the next goal.

The medical model involves experts telling someone what they have to do.  A level of outside control is in place to protect the person and push change.

Karen observed that the goals are the same, but how they approach the work is different.  Some people need the medical model and some people need the recovery model.  She stressed the need for a fluid practice that responds to people with the different helps that will work best for them.

Watch Karen’s full keynote address in the video below.

Here are five points of clarity that emerged in our conversations:

  1. Abstinence and harm reduction approaches both work toward the same goal: the restoring, strengthening, and healing of a person. Both approaches emphasize reducing harm and achieving abstinence or greater self-control.
  2. No one succeeds alone. Human connection and encouragement is necessary.  “Who helped me along the way? – people who were stable and sober and never gave up on me.”
  3. One size does not fit all. Harm reduction approaches work well for some and others need abstinence.  Most of the time, a person will need and respond to a combination of both.
  4. A flexible and fluid practice that incorporates both approaches is needed to meet people where they are, with the kinds and combinations of treatment that will best help them.
  5. Both models are powerful, but both take time. Relapses are part of the journey and the accompanying emotional journey is very difficult.  “It takes years for trauma to take form, it can take years for it to be resolved.”

Our panelists helped draw out some of these insights.  Watch their conversation in the video below.

How do we best help people on a path to recovery from an addiction?


In Pursuit of a fluid approach:

We need to be ready to accompany people on a very complex journey.  There are challenges that surge forward when someone finds themselves suddenly sober.  Rob Gurney, a peer support worker with Alberta Health Services noted that “Stabilization is wonderful, but then emotions come out and they fail.”  He stressed that if we’re not there to help with the emotional challenges that come out after someone stabilizes in their addiction, then we are only setting them up for failure.

Every approach should be trauma Informed.  An experience of trauma is often at the root of addiction, with substance use an attempt to drown or bury the pain experienced.  Trauma from sexual abuse, isolation or abandonment, violence, growing up with addicted parents in an unstable home, spending time in homelessness, being forcibly separated from family, negative experiences in the foster care system or residential schools…  people’s pain comes from many places.

Resist Warehousing.  People are used to being put in a docking pen and being treated all the same.  We need to strengthen efforts to see and respond to someone at a personal level.

Create a recovery culture.  One of our table groups, reflecting on our learnings together, made the following list that perhaps describes some of the ingredients for such a recovery culture:  “Community; support; acceptance; purpose; healing; choice; love; compassion”

Provide for closer and longer-lasting connections.  This can/should include more formal supports like peer support workers, trained staff (including some whose experience and learning is off the street), access to professional counselors, as well as supportive natural connections like friends, family and faith community relationships.

Creating places and spaces.  Long waiting lists for affordable and supportive housing are known to be a significant enemy of a person’s recovery.  Addressing that shortage is critical.  But we also discussed the need to think creatively in how we design these spaces, so they meet formal safety requirements, but feel more home-like, supporting a person’s sense of worth and dignity.  Even the look of a place, with white walls and locked doors can trigger trauma for those who may have spend a lot of time in hospitals or jails.  Getting residents involved in painting or redesigning  elements of the space is one strategy that has been helpful.

Strengthening a rapid response system.  Current efforts are hampered by various agencies and ministries working in silos.  This slows the work and makes the needed help difficult to access.  Waiting lists for help are also a significant concern, and people in addictions may take serious damage while on a long list.

Beware of stigmas that can get in the way.  If a person has to go to the Hospital because they are unwell, they may face the discrimination that they are drug-seeking, with medical staff reluctant to give them the needed medication.

Give people time to heal for lasting change.  Intergenerational poverty and trauma both have strong roots in a person’s character.  They formed over the course of many years, and it may take many years for healing and change and for new roots to be set down.  If housing and supports are taken away prematurely a person can fall all the way back down.  And the work really does take time.  Pamela Spurvey, a peer support worker with Alberta Health Services, described how it took her eight months to get someone to the dentist, and when her friend got there she curled up in a ball on the floor), but with that one step (and one victory) at a time approach her friend was improving.

Flexibility and Fit.  The managed alcohol program at the Grand Manor (Excel Society) was discussed as an example of a strong program in a supportive housing environment, but Becky Elkew, the director of care acknowledges it is not for everyone.  People who want to binge drink are not likely to succeed.  Intake staff really try to ensure the program fits with someone’s goals (including asking whether the bright liquor store sign across the street will be a problem).  Grand Manor has some flexibility built in to help people one on one if they need that, accommodating either abstinence or harm reduction approaches in different parts of the facility.

Providing for Hope.  We acknowledged that so many on the streets were really very strong; living in tents but coming three times a day to get their medication.  Supporting and encouraging these folks involves recognizing that strength and refusing to give up on them.  A spiritual care reinforcement is often an enormous help for people trying find hope and strength to heal from wounds in their past.


The panel took questions from our participants that generated a few more insights.  Watch the following video to see that exchange:

How do I or someone I love find access to existing resources in Edmonton.  Call Continuing care access – 780.496.1300; *211 for more information


A Closing Reflection from one of our participants:

“There is a stigma around mental health and addiction that keeps people in the shadows, without community, without support and it needs to be brought to light for things to change. Challenges that remain hurdles include facing stigma, negative messaging, judgment, living in silos, complex systems with complex paperwork, stains on records, work histories, trauma, waiting lists, transportation costs, intergenerational poverty, lack of support resources and more.”  – Jesse Edgington, Participating on behalf of the Northern Alberta Deaconal Conference.


Recognizing this stigma and the barriers to understanding so many of our brothers and sisters with addictions face, musician Roylin Picou chose to close our gathering with the song, Tear that curtain down; a reflection on Martin Luther King’s reaction to the curtain that used to separate people of colour from the caucasian population on public transit.  You can hear Roylin perform this song in another setting via the following video.


This summary of learnings is provided by Interfaith Housing Initiative with gratitude to Karen Bruno, our panelists, to the people with lived experience who shared their story, and to the many participants who joined us for a rich evening of learning.  Special gratitude to the Beth Israel Synagogue for their hospitality and to Paula Kirman for providing video footage for our event.

TogetherWise – a Trust Based Approach to Consultation

Interfaith Housing is proud to present: TogetherWise; A trust-based approach to healthy community consultations around affordable and supportive housing.

Beginning in January of 2019, Interfaith Housing embarked on a resource design project intended to support quality consultations in local communities around affordable and supportive housing builds.  CRIHI gathered a team of community leaders, faith leaders and housing providers to dig deep into how to get consultation right.  We did this work together out of a recognition that a quality consultation with the local community is critical both to the strength of the local project and to the welcoming of new neighbours; many of whom are hungry for warmth and connection in a new home.

Four design workshops hosted over the space of three months gave us room to work together on how to do this important work well.  Out of these sessions we identified five principles (heartbeats) of good consultation, and we created a road map with advice and best practices to do this well.  We even designed a program to carry it forward (see below).


The TogetherWise program provides the following key resources:

The TogetherWise Good Relationship Agreement to help the developer and the community clarify expectations and plan together for good process.

Facilitated conversations at three stages of the consultation process:

  1. We help frame the initial TogetherWise Good Relationship Agreement and plan.
  2. We hold a mid-point check-in to hear how things are going.
  3. We host a debrief conversation at the end of the process to bring closure and gather learnings to help other consultations.

The website www.togetherwiseconsulting.ca providing free access to all resources, including:

  • Five heartbeats of good consultation
  • A roadmap with advice for the journey
  • Consultation FAQs

The TogetherWise Resource Guide (print material) with key points and resources to aid the process.


Interfaith Housing Initiative is grateful to the many volunteers who served on our planning team and in our workshops.  We also want to express our sincere gratitude to our critical partners who provided funding and other forms of support throughout this project, and in carrying it forward in the years ahead.


Rent Assistance and New Funding for Affordable Housing Scaled back in Provincial Budget 2019

In 2018, CRIHI identified four priorities that we continue to believe are critical to stabilizing people and families in safe and affordable homes; crucial to the success of efforts to combat poverty in Edmonton.

  1. The Portable Housing Benefit (Rent assistance tied to a household)
  2. Permanent Supportive Housing
  3. Mobile Support Workers
  4. A Vision for the Way Ahead (emphasizing a healthy integration of housing and supports in communities across the city)

To promote these priorities, we gathered together on September 6, 2018 at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly.  The report and presentations from that event is here: https://wp.me/p20ewB-Pk.  At this event, CRIHI shared these four priorities with government leaders at federal, municipal and provincial levels.


In November of 2019, Interfaith Housing made inquiries to housing and community services ministries at the Province in order to explore the impact of the Provincial budget on efforts to provide housing and help to under-housed people and families in Edmonton.  Our requests were answered with clarity and honesty, but the news is not good for now.

CRIHI is sad to learn that the 2019 capital budget points to a disinvestment in two of the areas we highlighted as critical:

Permanent Supportive Housing
In Capital Plan 2019 there is no new funding for affordable or supportive housing.  The province is continuing with seven projects already underway.  New projects or proposals are being considered in the gearing up for Capital Plan 2020 using the existing capital planning process.  But it is unknown what kind of dollars will be allocated in 2020’s budget.   We hope this is only a temporary pause, but that remains unclear.

There is also no new money for Senior’s housing this year.  This area remains a concern as Alberta will face a Senior’s housing crunch in the next fifteen years as aging baby boomers enter that phase of life.  A shortage of housing options will almost certainly be felt most keenly by low-income seniors. If we are to prevent a crisis in the future, greater investments are needed beginning now; especially on more affordable options.

The Portable Housing Benefit 
(Rent assistance provided to a household in need)
Budget 2019 begins a gradual reduction to rental assistance programs.  Existing subsidies are carrying forward, but providers have been given instructions to halt any new intake into that program.  The stated purpose of that pause is so that a ministry can do a redesign of the program to ensure those who most need it are receiving it.  But further disinvestment in this help is also slated over the next few years, purportedly to save money.

Below are the reductions to rental assistance slated to be rolled out for the next three years:
2019 – $500,000 reduction
2021 – 11 million dollar reduction
2022 – 16 million dollar reduction

This news is particularly disheartening as the money saved is a very small amount, and it comes out of a program that provides flexible and immediate aid to families on the very edge.  And there are many…

In 2019 there were 21,000 Edmonton households paying more than 50% of their income to rent; with some families paying as high as 100%!  The wait list for affordable housing can be three to five years.  For families in these circumstances, subsidies like the child tax benefit may be all they have to cover food, transportation and other key expenses.  A rent subsidy provides immediate help to these households stuck in this crisis.

Rent Assistance is also an area where faith communities are largely unable to help out currently.  Churches, Mosques, Temples and Gurdwaras can sometimes respond with crisis funding to cover a stay in a motel if someone loses their housing, but monthly help with the rent is a challenging commitment that most do not have financial or organizational capacity to address.

A rent subsidy provides immediate help to households in crisis.  Research has also shown such subsidies to be effective in stabilizing people and families.  For this reason, CRIHI continues to promote investments in rent assistance as critical to the effort to address poverty in our city and province.


It is our hope and our prayer that this provincial budget represents only a pause by the Province in it’s efforts to reconfigure provincial finances.  The lack of investments in real help for the most vulnerable people and families in our province will come at great cost to all of us down the road; weighed both financially and in human tragedy.

In this case, the real solutions are cheaper! The financial case for Permanent Supportive Housing

When the real fixes are cheaper than bandaid solutions, why would we choose to stick with bandaids?

Edmonton’s most vulnerable citizen is her homelesss neighbour.  These (our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, sons and daughters lost to the street) must journey daily from soup kitchen to drop-in to emergency shelter with long walks all day (or all night) being chased out of public spaces, with little access to bathrooms, vulnerable to attack or theft as soon as they try to get some sleep; and battling addictions or mental health concerns on top of physical ailments and injuries.  Today around 70% of Edmonton’s street population is chronically homeless; with most of these losing years (even decades) to the street, and with many succumbing to their illnesses every year.

For the chronically homeless real help is more than a shelter bed, a hospital bed, or a prison bed.  Real help (the kind that’s working!) is  Permanent Supportive Housing.  But building these places requires a significant investment.  The question is: Will we pay it, and is it really cheaper than the status quo?

In recent years, City Council has identified the need for 900 units of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) as critical to successfully addressing homelessness in our city.  PSH provides stable housing paired with wraparound support and care for people with multiple complex needs including mental health, addictions, trauma and disabilities or physical ailments.

The Provincial government is a major player in the work of addressing housing and homelessness.  Health care funding and capitol dollars for affordable and supportive housing fall primarily in their jurisdiction, with significant assistance and a shared responsibility from partners at both federal and municipal levels.

As belt-tightening looms over the upcoming budget discussions in our province there is concern that effective help and treatment for the chronically homeless will be one of those areas that is lost.  The province has announced additional funding for 4000 addiction treatment beds, which is very good news and much needed.  But there is some concern that other needed investments may be dropped, slowing some of the positive movement that Edmonton has been able to celebrate in the last few years.  A main pillar of success in help to people experiencing chronic homelessness is Permanent Supportive Housing.

In 2018, CRHI identified Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) as one of our four critical priorities. 

We continue to give our support for this critical effort on the conviction that we can and we must do better to help our most vulnerable neighbours. The financial case only cements our conviction that this is the right way forward.  the cost of doing better is actually less than the status quo.  Doing it wrong is not only ineffective, it’s also more expensive than doing it right!

Q:  Is it really cheaper than the status quo?  Consider this portrait from the City of Edmonton 


“Providing appropriate housing for people experiencing homelessness generates significant cost savings to emergency, health, and justice systems in addition to freeing up resources for other Edmontonians in need of those services. Individuals who are sleeping outside are more likely to have complex co-occurring mental and physical health challenges, often compounded by substance abuse, that result in frequent and inappropriate use of health services. A hospital stay for a person experiencing homelessness costs more than $8,000 per day and an emergency room visit $840.

The negative financial impacts are demonstrated in a 2007-08 study that found that just ten heavy individuals system users among the homeless population cost Alberta Health Services an estimated $3.5 million alone in a single year.  This impact is consistent with other major cities across Canada, evidenced by a 2014 study that followed 990 people with mental health issues who were experiencing homelessness in five Canadian cities cost systems $53,144 per person on average annually.

Over the last ten years, Edmontonians have made significant progress in ending homelessness. Since 2009, more than 8,400 people have been housed and overall homelessness in our city has been reduced by 43 percent. In addition, these efforts saved an estimated $920 million in health and justice system costs.”


Up front, PSH requires a relatively large investment of land, capital dollars and operating dollars.  Here are the numbers the City of Edmonton has put forward to federal and provincial partners in a whitepaper submitted in September of 2019:


PSH facilities are created on a sliding spectrum from high to low intensity, and different kinds and levels of supports.  At the high intensity end of the spectrum, we see a facility like Ambrose Place here in Edmonton; a facility that the city featured as an example to accompany their submission to the Province. As you will see, even this more expensive example of PSH is still saving money.

Consider this case study of Ambrose Place; an example of




As the provincial budget is released in the next few weeks, CRIHI asks you to join us in watching for continuing funding for Permanent Supportive Housing.  Creating places of real healing and hope is the only way to help some of our most vulnerable neighbours.  It is cheaper than surrendering to bandaid solutions, and it actually works to help people!

Let’s get this right!

Pathways to Recovery; Understanding Harm Reduction and Abstinence – November 19, 2019

Opioid and alcohol abuse impact every community, with people losing years of their lives to powerful addictions; or losing loved ones to dark places and even to death.  Finding effective help and healing for those we love also matters to every community.

CRIHI recognizes that access to a safe and stable place to live is a key pillar of that help. But what kind of helps and supports do we need to provide on top of that, and what is truly helpful from the perspective of the person most trying to heal?

Come join the conversation as we consider these big questions together. Our journey to a shared understanding will be led by people with lived experiences, and those working to help them from using both harm reduction and abstinence approaches.

Pathways to Recovery; Understanding Harm Reduction and Abstinence


Tuesday, November 19, 2019 from 6-9 pm at Beth Israel Synagogue (131 Wolf Willow Rd. Edmonton)   To register, please visit our eventbrite at the following link:  Pathways to Recovery


Our keynote address will be provided by Karen Bruno.
Karen is a Cree women from Treaty 6 Territory. As a lived experience and professional experience person, she is known for her advocacy and networking skills. She has had over 27 years to help influence, communicate on community and social issues. Also known for her creative thinking and problem solving ability.
Karen currently works as a site manager in transitional housing that focuses on a Harm reduction and Trauma informed practice with a hard to house population.


In this public conversation we seek to build a shared understanding of:

  1. The workings of MAPs and MOPS (Managed Alcohol and Managed Opioid programs)
  2. What’s working to support people on their roads to recovery.
  3. The pillar of Housing First and the need for Permanent supportive housing.
  4. The need for wrap around community supports and care.

Program

  • 5:45 Doors open and guest sign-in
  • 6:15 Buffet dinner served (Kosher and with Gluten free and vegetarian options provided)
  • 6:40 Opening reflection and prayer
  • 6:45 Keynote address by Karen Bruno
  • 7:05 Table conversations hearing from people with lived experience of homelessness and addictions and reflecting on their respective journeys to recovery.
  • 7:40 Panel conversation hearing the voices of those working to support a person’s recovery using both abstinence and recovery approaches.
  • 8:05 Questions for the panel
  • 8:15 Table conversations to process learnings and key insights.
  • 8:40 Sharing of table learnings with the larger group.
  • 8:50 Closing reflection and adjournment

Dinner and childcare are provided free of charge for all participants.

Seeking Jubilee – Interfaith Table exploring a 0% mortage program

“The word “jubilee”—literally, “ram’s horn” in Hebrew—is defined in Leviticus 25:9 as the sabbatical year after seven cycles of seven years (49 years). The fiftieth year was to be a time of celebration and rejoicing for the Israelites. The ram’s horn was blown on the tenth day of the seventh month to start the fiftieth year of universal redemption.”

“The Year of the Jubilee involved a year of release from indebtedness (Leviticus 25:23-28) and all types of bondage (vv. 39-55). All prisoners and captives were set free, all slaves were released, all debts were forgiven, and all property was returned to its original owners. In addition, all labor was to cease for one year, and those bound by labor contracts were released from them. One of the benefits of the Jubilee was that both the land and the people were able to rest.”
Source:  https://www.gotquestions.org/Jubilee.html

Inspired by these teachings from the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and from Muslim teachings on debt and Usury, CRIHI is assembling a table to design and carry forward a 0% mortgage program.  A first draft of this program has been completed and is tentatively titled the Jubilee Mortgage program.  The idea is that such a program would provide a path into home ownership for low and middle income families who have demonstrated an ability to retain stable housing.

Instead of charging interest, this program would require participants to pay a service fee up front for participation .  This fee would cover:

  1. the costs of staffing and administration, program promotion etc
  2. stress tests and risk management
  3. and a significant percentage to grow the funding pool for the program.
CRIHI currently has Christian and Muslim voices at the table already to work together on this, but are seeking more participants from other faith communities.  Additional Muslim or Christian voices are also welcome.  CRIHI believes a strong Interfaith team backing this is critical to this program having success in developing relationships with financial institutions and private and public partners in business or Government.

If interested to participate in this program, please contact CRIHI’s animator at mike@interfaithhousing.ca.

Understanding and Responding to Nimbyism (Not in My Back Yard)

As cities all over North America work to provide low-income households a safe and affordable home, they face numerous persistent barriers.  These include the high cost of land, the search for funding for development, policy and zoning, and a very human challenge: Nimbyism in the local community.

Here’s a story to illustrate the challenge of Nimbyism:
A few years ago, I ran into an old friend at a consultation for a new affordable housing complex proposed for her neighbourhood, and asked her what she thought.  She said, “Look, I get it that everyone needs a place to live, and that we need more places like this, but here?  On the corner of my park?  My kids have to walk past there all the time on their way to school.”

Now I know my friend to be a caring and compassionate person, and a great mom.  But faced with this change, she had a strong reaction; one sometimes referred to in shorthand as a NIMBY reaction:  “Not In My Back Yard.”

On May 14, 2019, the Interfaith Housing Initiative hosted a workshop at Queen Alexandra Community League called “Understanding and Responding to Nimbyism.”  This was the third of four workshops in a series called, “Getting Consultation Right!”  This event featured two panels of speakers, including three housing providers and two community leaders all willing to share their experience and insight in how to both understand and respond to Nimbyism.    You can watch the full panel discussion at the link below, or keep reading for a summary of key points:

Here is some of what we learned together:

How can we understand Nimbyism?
Here is a working definition we are using:  Nimbyism (Not in My Back Yard)  is a (sometimes) strong reaction or response to more significant changes in a local area; especially those perceived as possibly negative.

So how should we understand why people react as they do?
In our second panel discussion, Fraser Porter, the current president of the Edmonton Federation of Community leagues observed that “Love and attachment are the root causes. We love our neighbourhoods and we resist change because we worry something we love is being lost.”

That natural fear of change was also noted by Carola Cunningham, who serves as CEO of Niginan Developments, a provider of Permanent Supportive Housing.  Cunnningham noted that “it is only natural to object and respond with fear to the unknown (color, culture, addiction, etc) and all those things must be meaningfully addressed to have an honest dialogue.

Certainly, the love for what we have and the fear of losing it are very powerful impulses. Some of those fears may be connected to structural changes to infrastructure such as parking and traffic flow, the fit and flow of architecture, the loss of trees or open spaces.  But other fears may centre around who the new neighbours might be, and how they will integrate into the local community.

Q: How can we respond well to Nimbyism?
The answer that seemed to come forward from our panelists was to respond to fears with clear, honest and open communication; working to build both a shared understanding and a trusting relationship moving forward.  To do that, the housing provider should avoid thinking about or treating local neighbours as opponents, even if there are strong feelings or anger.  As with all relationships, how we conduct ourselves in the midst of conflict can either inflame or resolve concerns.

Sherri Shorten, a community voice from Holyrood said it was important to “Believe in the community voice. The people in our community were hurt by being called NIMBY. It broke down relationships when they were bringing truly valid concerns to the table.” 

Cam McDonald from Right at Home Housing Society noted that:  “What was important in the North Glenora context was an openness on both sides. What I learned was just how much the community was willing to give to create a shared vision and understanding.

Demonstrating openness and a will to patiently answer people’s questions makes room for trust, and for the community to also give of themselves to the health of the project and their new neighbours.

Consultation pic

Q: Is it problematic to tell the community about the health problems of residents?
At one level, even talking about who is going to live in a new housing development seems problematic.  In Canada, no one has the right to choose their neighbours, and discrimination based on age, ability, illness, race or culture, or religious belief is not permitted.  But our panelists responded in favour of answering those questions openly and honestly.

“It can be heard in comments like, “How do you screen your tenants? How do you ensure our community remains safe?  At my house I don’t get to pick who is my next-door neighbour. The zoning bylaw is very clear. It’s not about the USER, its about the USE. However, its so important that you don’t offend the people you’re talking to. You do have to address their concerns.” (Cam Macdonald, Right at Home Housing Society)

Trueman Macdonald, who oversees the work at Iris Court a supportive home for formerly homeless persons with schizophrenia shared their approach:  “We actually saw it as an opportunity to educate the community as well. It was just natural for us to talk about it. Our whole mandate is advocacy and breaking down those barriers. Our people with lived experience want to get their stories out to reduce the stigma surrounding their illness.”

Addressing people’s concerns with patience and respect is the best way to help them better understand and put their fears and concerns into context.  It also paves the way for understanding and healthy long-term relationships in the local community.

A very helpful tool in this regard are Good Neighbour Agreements.  With Iris Court, the Schizophrenia society provided a detailed “Good Neighbour Agreement” to the local community that included info regarding tenants, services, house rules, and how the organization planned to respond to community complaints.  Having a clear plan and a process available showed the community the strength of Iris Court’s commitment to being a good neighbour.  It also helped the tenants feel safe and secure in their new community.

The Nimby response is a very ordinary and human reaction to change in a local community.  Good consultation takes the time to work through people’s questions and concerns openly and honestly, without judging them or treating them as opponents.  A patient approach builds toward a trusting relationship between the local community and the developer.  In the space of that relationship, honest and constructive engagement is able to flow, supporting the long-term health and vitality of the project, the local community, and those finding a home there.


By Mike Van Boom, Network Animator for Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI)

The article is presented as a summary of key learnings in this third, of four workshops in a resource design project hosted by CRIHI, involving community leaders, housing providers and people of faith in a collaborative creation of consultation resources.   The full resources we have developed together will be delivered in the fall of 2019; made possible by a grant from the Edmonton Community Foundation, with Al Rashid Mosque serving as fiscal agent for the project.

Religious and spiritual communities working to end homelessness in Edmonton and area

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