Have You Seen Theo?

A Frontline Hospitality Story

On a cold early spring day in March, my co-worker and I were doing one of our usual routes in the Crisis Diversion van, when I saw a homeless community member who was trudging down the sidewalk with his shopping cart of belongings.   As he bumped his cart across the street, his sleeping bag slipped off unbeknownst to him.  Knowing that he would need it for the cold night ahead – a sleeping bag being a sign that he most likely slept outside rather than harbouring in a shelter for the night – I asked my co-worker to pull around the block so that I could dash out, get the sleeping bag, and return it to its owner.

That was how I met Theo, and had the honour of hearing some of his story.  I was right, he does sleep on the street.  The shelter was not his cup of tea.  Too many people.  A good place to catch a virus as you lay side by side in a large open space with dozens of others.  Too chaotic.  High chance of being roughed up.  At least in the alley where he made his bed he had his own space.  Theo at once struck me as a gentle soul, as he thanked me with kind words for returning his sleeping bag.  He was hungry, and had missed dinner at Hope Mission.  Though it didn’t really matter, as he was only able to keep down soup and other liquids.  He shared with me that he was in the late stages of colon cancer, his thin, frail figure giving away just how progressed the cancer was.

I asked my usual question, “Are you on any lists for housing?”  He had put his name in with Homeward Trust, but that had been a couple years already.  “Let’s look into that,” I suggested. “You can check in with housing at Boyle Street.  I’ll check in as well tomorrow,” as it was Sunday. We looked for him later that night to bring him some soup, but he was not to be found in his usual sleeping spot.

On Monday I stopped in at Boyle Street’s Housing Department and spoke with the manager.  She was very empathetic towards Theo’s situation and managed to change his status in the database to note the urgency in finding him housing.  We agreed that it was only human to be able to die enveloped in care rather than spending your last days on earth in a back alley.  It was what Theo told me he wanted as well.  Sometimes we as workers have ideas of how things should be, without thinking of what the community member actually wants.  The housing manager also put in a phone call to Homeward Trust.  Later that day we stopped in at Bissell Centre, as that was another place Theo frequented, and found that he had a worker there.  So we asked her to keep an eye out for Theo as well.

Within that same week I was contacted by both the manager of Housing at Boyle Street and a Homeward Trust worker with news that they were casting a wide net around Edmonton’s social service organizations to find Theo, and then at last that Theo had been spotted and was in the Housing office.  I don’t know the end of Theo’s story, but I have great hope that because of all the folks asking that question, “Has anyone seen Theo?” he is housed and spending the last of his days warm and cared for, receiving meals as well as meds to control his pain.  I am always grateful when I meet people who care for others as beloved children of the Creator, not as one of many, not as a case to be solved, but as a human being worthy of love and dignity.

Submitted by Heather Tigchelaar, a frontline worker with the 24/7 Crisis Diversion Team, under Boyle Street Community Services

 

See Inside: The First Place Housing Program

The rising cost of a starter home, tighter mortgage rules, and a slower growth in personal incomes means that more and more people are having a hard time crossing the threshold into home ownership.

The challenge is particularly pronounced for young people and families in entry level jobs, or those who may be carrying student debt.  For many of these people basement suites, rentals, or a bedroom in their parent’s home may be all they can afford.

One answer to this challenge is led by the City of Edmonton:  The First Place Program
      “Consider how things have changed, even in the last ten years,” says Tim McCargar, who leads the City’s First Place Housing Program. “In 2006, young people entering the housing market could get a 35-year amortization on a mortgage with no down payment.  Recently, there has been greater scrutiny with regard to income verification. Now, the longest available amortization is 25-years, with at least 5% down.  Even with a good income, you can’t qualify without that down payment.”

Conceived by City Council in 2006 in response to rapidly escalating housing prices, First Place was a decision to create greater housing opportunity in Edmonton for young people and families. The goal of the program is to increase the supply of starter homes, and help get people into their first home.  Recognizing that single-family dwellings are becoming out of reach for most first-time buyers, Council directed that administration build townhomes, which is increasingly how young people begin home ownership.

First Place is targeted to help people just outside the market: recent graduates with student debt, young families and young professionals living at home, or in apartments.

How does it work? 
From the beginning, City Council directed City staff to work with the local new home builders and banks to determine how to help people enter the housing market.  Out of that collaboration, a strong program has been developed, and the banks and builders play an ongoing role in its implementation and success.

The City of Edmonton helps by providing the vacant building sites where homes can be built, and requiring builders to engage each community individually in the design of new home.  In 2006, 20 school sites that sat empty for years before being declared surplus by local school boards were selected by City Council to be the building sites where the new homes would be constructed. This too is competitive, as buyers can choose what they like, and where they want to live.

      The two home builders for the First Place program were selected through an open and competitive process.  After design consultations and engagement with the local community and approval of development permits, new home construction starts.

Q: Is the land given, or sold at a discount?

The land is sold to homeowners at current market value, which is determined by professional land appraisers.
Q: Is there continued funding from the city for the program?
There is no tax levy funding associated with development of the First Place townhomes.  The costs of engaging local residents to design the homes and of building the homes is borne by the builder.

        Eligible purchasers pay for the cost of the unit, as well as relevant condominium fees, taxes and utility costs. There is a five-year deferral on the land portion of the mortgage, after which time the owner must pay the City the total amount of the deferred land costs.   This five-year deferral gives the new buyer time to build some equity, gain stability, and increase their monthly income.

Who is eligible to purchase a First Place home?
Local banks supporting the program require that each buyer qualify for the cost of the new home and land.  Interested buyers contact the new home builders directly to learn more about the homes and are advised of the program’s eligibility criteria:

  • Must be able to qualify and obtain pre-approved financing.  (Banks currently require a minimum of 5% down payment, and look for a maximum gross debt service ratio of 32% or total debt service ratio maximum of 42%.)
  • Must be a first-time home buyer in Alberta
  • Must agree to be full time occupants and residents of the home for at least five years
  • Must have a personal net worth less than $25,000, excluding a primary vehicle, lock-in or group RRSP and the down payment saved for the home
  • Must be a Canadian citizen or have permanent resident status
  • Must be employed and have a combined household income of no more than $117,000.  Combine income refers to those holding the mortgage and title to the home
  • Applicants may use a “co-signer” to qualify for and obtain mortgage approval

There is some limited discretion on a site-by-site basis.  One single mom with a divorce behind her did own a home previously.  Program staff considered her situation and were able to waive that one requirement.
There are also a few rules every new homebuyer must follow:

  • All buyers must live in the home they purchase and belong to the condominium association which ensure homes and sites are well maintained.
  • Buyers may not move elsewhere and rent out the home.   After the five-year deferral period, the home buyers have the same rights and responsibilities of ownership as all other owners in the neighbourhood.

What about the surrounding community?
Local communities often have concerns around traffic and parking, and design of the new homes.  When Council approved the program, they built in a requirement that members of the local community be directly involved in designing the new homes.

      The City recruits six to eight residents from the community through an open application process to work with the builder to help design the new homes and ensure they fit well with the surrounding neighbourhood.  The design process usually involves three to four meetings over a two to four-month period, depending on design engagement participants’ schedules.

       At the first meeting, the City and the builder get feedback from the design participants on what they do or don’t want there, and to hear what they might be anxious about, such as height, traffic and sprawl.  During the design process, many initial designs are presented to the participants for review and feedback.  From there, the team works on revising the designs and comes back again for a further round.

In the design process, participants are able to influence:

  1. The number of homes on the site
  2. Orientation: directions they face (inward, outward etc.)
  3. Roofing styles: contemporary designs tend towards variety in the roof line
  4. Homes exterior character and style
  5. Colour schemes that fit in each neighbourhood
  6. Traffic flow in and out of the building site
  7. Parking arrangement: all developments now include drive-under units as part of their plan.

In response to residents’ requests for greater transparency, updates on the status of the design engagement process, including meeting minutes and design options under consideration, are posted online following each design engagement committee meeting for the public to view.

       The local community also tends to have concerns around property upkeep and appearance.  To respond to that, every First Place project is set up with a Condo board.  The board looks after snow removal and lawn maintenance, and helps respond to any concerns arising from within or outside the new development.
       First Place also encourages involvement in the local community.  They do this by providing community league memberships to new buyers as part of the package to encourage local involvement.  As a result, they see these new neighbours getting involved in local community leagues and schools, and helping run community programming.
Success and Failure: Is it working?
Here is one significant and measurable sign of success:  There have been no mortgage failures thus far!
       That doesn’t mean there aren’t situations when things go sideways.  People sometimes need to leave before the five-year deferral had ended.  One story is from a nurse who is a single mom and has a daughter in a two-bedroom townhome.  But then she meets a guy (a cop), and he has two kids of his own.  Now they need a larger family home.  But it could be any number of factors:  A dream job!  A Divorce.  Inheritance!  New babies!
       When these situations arise, staff from the First Place Program are able to meet with them to discuss a few options.  They may be able to sell to another qualified buyer for the balance of a 5-year deferral.  Or they may pay off the deferral.  When these situations arise, the City works with the home owner to determine the best course of action.

       There are also situations where someone breaks the rules and breaches contract.  (Perhaps they move out and rent out the place.)  Fellow First Place homeowners will often see this happen and report it.  In these situations, the First Place staff has some tools with which to respond, including removal from the program and buying back the house.

What does success look like?
One young mom celebrates being able to have a separate bathroom for her teenage daughter.  Home ownership often leads to family and new relationships.  It is surprising how fast the babies come!
Common spaces built into each development help create community with neighbours and other families.
People in the local neighbourhood have to buy more Halloween candy and hand them out to cute kids.  Kids are walking to school, again!

       Parents are often there to co-sign the mortgages, helping their kids find their feet, and often being close enough to share life as a young family begins to bloom.  When parents see their kids become stable and healthy, it is a powerful gift.

They have also seen children from the local neighbourhood able to buy in the neighbourhood they grew up in.

Article by Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Tim McCargar, Director, Civic Properties, City of Edmonton

Visit the First Place website at: https://www.edmonton.ca/programs_services/housing/first-place.aspx


What’s Your Wisdom on Affordable Housing? – Mill Woods!

CRIHI is hosting a workshop on Affordable Housing in Mill Woods on Saturday, April 29 from 1-4pm.  We have invited local community leagues and neighbours, faith communities, and local service providers.

If you call Mill Woods your home, or your faith community is rooted there, or you have friends and neighbours living in this area, please encourage them to participate.  We have much to learn from each other when we take time to listen and share ideas and perspectives.

The Muslim Community will be providing refreshments for the workshop, and we look forward to tasting their hospitality.  We hope for a strong and diverse turnout of people and voices, so we can generate some good community wisdom together!

HELP SPREAD THE WORD!

Housingworkshop flyer

 

Creating Community for People in Prison

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…  I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   – Jesus  (Matthew 25:36, 40)

Reflection
When Jesus identifies himself with the person who is hungry, weak, the prisoner, or the stranger, he challenges his followers to always see another person’s potential, value, and humanity, and to respond in tenacious faith to what God may do in the life of their neighbour.  Yesterday and today, that belief drives Christians to invest themselves in the lives of their neighbours, even in prison.

On Sunday nights from 6:00-7:30,

       A team of women and (even a few men) from Beulah Alliance Church and West Edmonton Christian Assembly go to visit with women in a prison on the west end, here in Edmonton.  About thirty-five women from the prison come out to join them for coffee and snacks, and to experience the Alpha program.  They eat together, pray together, share stories, and learn about the Christian Faith.  One woman attended the program 3 or 4 times without showing any desire to embrace Christianity.  When asked why, she said, ‘Because I feel cared for.’
       That honest statement points to the genuine heart of why those doing this ministry do what they do:  To support these women in their struggle to heal, to confront some of the darkness and pain they carry, and find answers to who they are so that they may succeed.  In these gatherings, caring relationships are formed, some of which are able to carry on after a woman is discharged into the community.
      Marilyn Johnson, one of the leaders in the team has observed that it is very good to have men participate in these visits as well, so that the women have an opportunity to have a healthy relationship with a male presence.
      Because of the success of the program and the trust earned, mentors in the program have earned escort privileges to take some of the women to church on a Sunday morning.  (If a women is from the medium security end, then she would also be escorted by two guards.)  But this means so much to the women, to have the opportunity to get out of prison and be welcomed by a church community.  They have hard deadlines that do not budge, of course.  The women must be back by 10:00 am, sharp!  But the efforts of these churches gives them an experience of belonging, which means a lot.
      Their efforts have been very well-received by both the women, and by their families, who have expressed profound gratitude; even from a father from Manitoba, who was all in tears.

Prison can be a place of restoration

I am glad God brought me into prison.  If I was still out there, I would probably be dead!”
      This statement by a woman visiting the program reinforces an observation made by Marilyn others that many of the stories told by the women had a common theme:  Wrong place!  Wrong time!  Wrong friends!
      For many of the women, prison can offer them an opportunity; a solid interruption to unhealthy choices, circumstances and relationships.  Many of the women are eager to use this opportunity, and having people come into the prison to walk that road with them, is really valuable.

Challenges On the Outside

      Much work goes into helping a women succeed on the outside, but the challenges following release are significant.  Generally the women will find themselves immersed in the same set of circumstances and troubled relationships that fuelled their wrong choices and bad behaviors.  A top indicator for whether a person succeeds or fails on the outside is whether or not they have healthy supportive community.  But finding this can be very hard.
      The organizers of the program really want to support the women once they are on the outside, but there are major challenges.  One simple difficulty is to keep in contact with women once they have left the prison.  Their home communities are all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so many are simply separated by distance.  Many are sent to half-way houses, and may not even know where they are headed a week ahead of time.
       For the women who stay locally, they may have some success for a while and stay in regular contact.  But then they might do something that they are ashamed to admit, and pull back.  As well, the team is forced to keep some distance in relationships, and they struggle with whether to open their homes and give out personal information.  One reason for that caution is that some of the women can be manipulative.  When volunteers begin this work, they take a course on what they are or are not allowed to do; including sharing personal information.  Many of those guidelines continue to apply even on the outside.
       But within those guidelines, there is much that can be done.

What can we do to provide supportive community to people coming out of prison?

1. Run support groups like celebrate recovery that can provide both support and accountability.
2. Get together socially!  Meet for coffee or get food at a restaurant. Go for walks, or get out to have fun together.
3. Provide work opportunities.  There are businesses that are willing to work with people coming out of prison, and do much to provide that supportive community environment.

These activities may take some organizing, but this engagement is very meaningful to anyone trying to pull their life back together after prison.

A Success story:  A woman in her fifties formed a relationship with the group while she was still in prison.  She had killed someone many years ago.  Now she has been out for two years and is doing really well.  She calls up Marilyn and others from the program to get together, and she is so excited when she gets to be with them.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Marilyn Johnson    

See Inside: Metis Urban/Capital Housing

Not-for-Profit Social Housing providers like Metis Urban/Capital Housing play a crucial part in the work of providing home and help to populations in extreme poverty.

Description and brief history

Metis Urban Housing Corporation (MUHC) was formed thirty-five years ago to manage a subsidized housing program targeted to aid low-moderate income aboriginal families. Individuals and families were able to afford a home, paying 25% of their rent geared to income (RGI).

Ten years ago, as housing stock aged, and government subsidies began to fall away, a sister company, Metis Capital Housing Corporation (MCHC) was formed in order to renovate, build and manage affordable Units.

Today, between the two sides of the organization, MUHC/MCHC is the largest Aboriginal Housing operation in Canada; owned by the Metis Nation of Alberta. They have 14 locations in Alberta, both Urban and Rural, ranging from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie.

Here’s what MUHC/MCHC is able to charge for a three-bedroom unit: their most common housing stock:

Metis housing rents

MUHC/MCHC does have a few apartment complexes, but the vast majority (90%) are single dwellings; houses all across the province. Some are bungalows and 4-plexes. Their units are spread throughout the city, which reduces the likelihood of a home becoming a target for negative activity.

As MUHC is not a charity, their operational dollars come in part from the Province of Alberta (80%) and in what they receive from Rent (20%). As they do not receive any dollars for infrastructure, or renovation, they have to squeeze those dollars out while trying to keep rents low. This can be difficult.

Not your average landlord

Many of MUHC/MCHC’s tenants can often face significant barriers and require some kind of supports. Marilyn Gladue, Director of Housing for Edmonton and Rural North says, “We are not funded to do that, but we have to.” She says, “many tenants are from reserves or settlements, so are not familiar with renter responsibilities such as neighbouring, mowing lawns, being good tenants. We can’t take it for granted that people know the basics.” And many come in to large centres like Edmonton to access medical needs or pursue educational opportunities.

MUHC/MCHC works hard with tenants, doing far more than the average landlord; assisting families with budgeting, or repayment plans if they get behind on their rent. They try to be somewhat patient and flexible as they want people to succeed. They also do lots of workshops.

Housing is meant to be short term as people move up the spectrum to greater stability or even home ownership. But that road is longer for some than others, and not everyone is able to move forward in the same way.

Successes and failures:

MUHC/MCHC has seen some very good results with people turning lives around; responding to their efforts to work with them. They have been able to help some move up the ladder from Subsidized housing to affordable, and then even into Home Ownership. They have a great relationship with Habitat for Humanity and have seen many of their families move forward and succeed in their program.

One success story involves a single mom with three kids. Her husband left her, and she was really struggling to provide for her family. She was able to rent with MUHC, and with their support, she fought her way out of debt, managed to feed and clothe her children, and is now back in school. She’s moving forward!

Another family was raising four children. When the husband got a plumbing ticket and a job upgrade the family no longer qualified for subsidized housing. MCHC was able to transfer them to affordable units, and from there they were able to make the leap into home ownership.

But not everyone succeeds. The way can be a steep uphill climb for many. Families can face lots of pressures, including economic, addictions, peer pressure and lifestyle choices. People can’t be forced to make changes, and it all has to be voluntary. Some are not willing or able to accept the helps offered.

Marilyn observes that the Truth and Reconciliation process is important and crucial to help people heal and confront negative pressures, and to move forward with positive choices.

Long Wait Lists

Like other providers of Affordable Housing, MUCH/MCHC has a very long waiting list. They have 1800-2000 famlilies on their wait list at any given time. (that calculates to between 8000 and 10,000 people.)

While they wait, people struggle to get by, paying far more rent than they can afford (up to 60%), doing whatever they have to in order to survive. And there are many problems that come from being under-housed. Affording transportation to your job is hard. Some families are staying in motels.

In today’s housing market, there are some rental spaces available, but not nearly enough that are supportive. As well, landlords will generally choose a person with a stronger income and rent history over someone who is low-income. And unfortunately, not everyone is willing to rent to aboriginal families that are struggling.

Often people with no other choices will sometimes end up in slum landlord situations where properties are not well-maintained by the landlord. This has a very negative impact on the family, including souring relations with local neighbors.

Moving Forward…

Because of the financial realities of contemporary property development, MUHC/MCHC is forced to move beyond single dwellings to building townhouses or small apartments. Currently, they are building four or eight-plex townhouses in order to keep costs affordable and sustainable.

There are some serious concerns on the radar as subsidy agreements are expiring and not being renewed. This has resulted in approximately 40% of units lost nationwide. Today, 160,000 families are being subsidized across Canada. By 2032 (15 years), all these subsidies will disappear.

But MUHC/MCHC sees reason for hope. The Federal Government today is the first in almost forty years to work on a National Housing Strategy. They are looking at different models as the current model is considered unsustainable. Some of the ideas being considered are:

  1. Tying funding to families rather than units.
  2. Recognizing the need to renovate current inventory and add/build new.
  3. Amending some of the National Housing occupancy guidelines so they are able to respond to the need in a more flexible way.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with MUHC Executive Director, Larry Scarbeau and Director of Housing, Marilyn Gladue.

City updating Plan to End Homelessness

In 2009, the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness released A Place to Call Home: Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. The report calls for a transition from managing homelessness to ending it, using housing and supports.

The plan has five main goals, which are detailed below.

  1. Provide permanent housing options for all people living on the street and in public places.
  2. Ensure an adequate supply of permanent, affordable housing with appropriate supports for people who are homeless.
  3. Ensure emergency accommodation is available when needed, but transition people quickly into permanent housing.
  4. Prevent people from becoming homeless.
  5. Establish a governance structure and an implementation process for the plan.

Recently, City Council unanimously voted for a new plan to house the chronically homeless population.

      This vote came after a report showing that while the City of Edmonton has made progress on short-term housing, it has added just 213 of the 1,000 permanent housing units identified as needed in a 2009 report. According to Mayor Don Iveson, the shortfall is a result of a lack of funding from other levels of government. Iveson argues that improved access to affordable housing will help to offset other community costs such as policing, healthcare and social disorder and is a good investment into the health of Edmonton’s economy.
The City of Edmonton and Homeward Trust are holding public consultation sessions, giving the public the opportunity to provide information and input into an update of the Plan. The sessions are open to the public and have themes related to access to housing and basic needs. I hope that interest in these sessions is widespread and that all participants come with an open mind and with a focus on the best interests of the homeless population of Edmonton.
All residents of Edmonton deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, to have access to supports they need to excel in their daily lives, to have access to safe, secure and stable housing and to feel included and involved in their communities. These public consultations are a step in the right direction to ensure that all people of Edmonton have access to these experiences and that their basic housing needs are met.
By Heather Curtis: Research Coordinator at the Edmonton Social Planning Council(ESPC)
Visit ESPC at their website:  http://edmontonsocialplanning.ca/

Why Scientologists Help!

      One can look around this world and find numerous examples of tragedies, poverty, war and losses. It is easy to become depressed about this and feel that all is in despair.

We can put our attention on this and become hopeless or we can focus on the people that are tackling these problems to help; better yet we can join them to create huge effects for the betterment of all mankind.  Scientology believes that something can be done about it.

The eight dynamics as survival in Scientology is a fundamental  principle. The first dynamic is you as an individual, the second is creativity and family, the third is groups, the fourth is mankind, the fifth is all life forms, the sixth is the physical universe, the seventh is the spiritual and the eighth is infinity (however one wants to define God, Creator, Supreme Being etc…) In order to achieve harmony and success, one must ensure that all of these dynamics are thriving. They are intertwined and can not be separated.  This core belief is understood by Scientologists that one can not help himself and better his conditions in life if he is only focusing on the first dynamic. A poor 4th dynamic (mankind) will bring down all the others. We are only as good as all of our dynamics. It directly contributes to our personal survival to help our fellow man.

We help because anyone can sit on the sidelines and say what others need to do. Life is not a spectator sport. Life is a game and we play it hard. We know ways to help and it is our duty and our pleasure to back it up with action. One of the basic truths within Scientology is that one is as valuable as one is able to help others.

We don’t all have to have the same faiths to join together and create a healthy, thriving and safe world. We just need a common purpose – to help. And we can move mountains…

Article submitted by Kara Murray, from Edmonton’s Scientology Community

See Inside: Housing First!

We’re all familiar with door-to-door support programs like Meals on Wheels, providing food security to people with mobility challenges.  It turns out a similar approach is working for people coming off the street into housing.  Let me introduce you to Housing First!

Housing First is a philosophy.  It is a philosophy that’s part of Edmonton’s and Alberta’s respective Plans to End Homelessness.  If you want someone to succeed at being housed, you need to give them the tools to remove the barriers they face.  The first step is to provide housing, and then you can address life issues which may have led to homelessness in the first place.

But Housing First is also a program.  It is a network of resources, programs and strategies that has taken root here in Edmonton to provide both housing and necessary supports to people in crisis.  The basic thrust of the program is this:  Identify a person’s needs.  Provide them with appropriate housing.  Then provide support workers to help them keep their housing, settle in, and support them in the work of moving forward.  Since 2009, Homeward Trust, which oversees the Housing First program here in Edmonton has housed and supported 6,000 people.

How a person is housed depends on their needs.  Most in the Housing First program are placed in market rental housing, which could be anywhere in the city.  But as you will see in the chart below, not everyone needs the same level of support or care.  So the program works to provide appropriate home and care tailored to each individual.

HOUSING FIRST 
The range of housing and supports

Rapid Rehousing (RR) Intensive Case Management (ICM) Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)
case management case management clinical intervention case management
  Able to access clinical supports on their own. Need in-home visits.

Chronic mental illness &/or addictions

On-site supports provided around the clock
Housing First team Housing First team Housing First team and visits from professional support like Occupational therapist, LPN, RN, Psychiatry Range of supports depending on population. Can include: food, healthcare, OT, LPN, RN, Recreational programs
Usually in Market Housing Usually in Market Housing Often in Market Housing Supportive Living Facility
What kind of barriers do people generally face?
In addition to experiencing homelessness, people who can be served by a Housing First program are facing a combination of barriers:
  1. Mental Health: ie. major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia
  2. Addictions: ie. alcohol, gambling, drugs
  3. Broken relationships or loss:  ie. Grieving the loss of a child, spouse, or parent or a broken marriage.
  4. Mistakes in their past that have damaged their credit, or rental history, or resulted in a criminal conviction.
  5. Trauma:  ie. from violence or abusive relationships, from living on the street, as veterans of police or military, or intergenerational trauma from residential schools.  Trauma is common to almost everyone coming into Housing First.

What does a Housing First team generally do?
Once a person has been assessed and Housing First is found to be the appropriate intervention, they are provided with a Housing First team.  This team helps them find a place, get settled, and supports them as they move forward. The team will go with them to look at different apartments, and help get everything arranged; be there for moving day; take them to Find (Homeward Trust’s initiative that provides people moving out of homelessness through Housing First with free furnishings) to get set up with initial furniture, start-up food, cleaning supplies, basic tools.
Then depending on what a person needs, members of the team will visit regularly.  It could be as many as two day a week for the first few months.

How does Housing First help people move forward?
From beginning to end, every part of this program is voluntary. It is client-centred with self determination of the client, key.  The moment you walk into someone’s living room and tell them what to do, you create a wall: usually impenetrable.  But if you ask someone what they need to move forward, they are going to know.  The Housing First team works with the person to make a plan and connect with appropriate resources.
The program works to help overcome barriers, but the choices of participants must be honoured.  The team must give someone the dignity of failure: to make their own decisions and to learn from those decisions.

What kind of challenges do people face? 

  1. Negative messages.  As participants are welcomed into the program, they receive a lot of messages from the mainstream: suggesting that they are not deserving of housing because they haven’t worked for it, or judging them for their addictions.
  2. It’s a mountain!  When people first move in, things go really well.  Then the hard work begins of confronting barriers; many of which are very, very difficult.  There can be a lot of stumbling.  “The Housing First worker has to be a guide through the hard work and show the payoff at the end.  But what is amazing is how strong some folks are!  The trauma can be so heavy, but folks learn so much and connect in a finite amount of time.  It is like climbing a mountain, but they do it and it is amazing!” says Renee Iverson
  3. Building a new network of support. When someone is moving from a life that’s entrenched on the streets into the life of a housed person, there’s a change with the way someone views community.  It can be a huge task rebuilding a positive community of support. For example, Welcome Home is a program designed to address this challenge by matching a team of volunteers with a participant to go for walks, share a meal, go bowling, and to be there as a friend.  Click here for more information on how to volunteer https://www.cssalberta.ca/Our-Ministries/Welcome-Home

How does a person apply for Housing First?
Coordinated Access is centralized intake. People can call or visit Homeward Trust’s partnering agencies. There is “no wrong door” approach to what agency they can visit.  Most people who experience homelessness in Edmonton will never require a Housing First intervention. For those that do, centralized intake will be able to route them to the appropriate Housing First teams.

Here is a link to a page on CRIHI’s website with some key contact numbers including access to Housing First:  http://wp.me/P20ewB-o6

Article by Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Renee Iverson from Homeward Trust

If my kid can do it…

It all started with a request for sidewalk chalk.

My family was walking the few blocks home after church one Sunday afternoon, when my four-year-old daughter asked my wife to have some sidewalk chalk from her purse.  She then proceeded to begin drawing arrows all down the sidewalk.

After a while, we asked her about why she was drawing these arrows, and she said to us, “so people can find our house!”
“Oh!” we said.  And what’s happening at our house?
(Parent’s note: We were planning a nice quiet afternoon as it was our last day with Nana, who was visiting from Ontario)
“We’re having a tea party!” said she.
“Oh really!  And where are we having this tea party?”
“On the sidewalk!”

So, as happens regularly with parents raising young children, our plans for a chilled afternoon with Nana were hijacked by an exciting new idea from the mind and heart of our child.

Here’s what we did:  We brought out a few chairs and a small table and set it up on the sidewalk at the foot of our driveway.  We set out the tea.  We knocked on a few doors to invite people who lived nearby, and for the next two and a half hours we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon chatting with our neighbours.

Our Italian neighbours from around the corner brought out some cookies to share.  The eighty-year-old woman on the corner who had lived in this neighbourhood for over 60 years came out and told us stories; including how she raised her six kids in her little 650 square foot house.  People walking their dogs stopped to visit, and we even had one or two homeless neighbours stop by for a cookie and some tea.  It was a wonderful and beautiful experience.

Today, it is a reminder to me of what is possible with a little heart, imagination and courage.  Poverty takes many forms and is in every community.  Some of that poverty is relational; taking the form of loneliness and isolation.  All of us find ourselves there sometimes.  The answer to much of the poverty we experience is found when we experience real community together.

How does that community start?  With a little hospitality!   And hey, if my kid can do it, so can I!

By Mike Van Boom, from Edmonton’s McCauley Community

A Catholic Reflection: Spiritual Grounding in Bridging Societal Divides

Article first published in the Western Catholic Reporter on September 16, 2013
by BOB MCKEON

Last month I attended an afternoon meeting at the Marian Centre in inner city Edmonton. At the end of the meeting, I was invited to join with the Marian Centre staff for the 5:15 pm Mass at St. Benedict’s Chapel at Edmonton’s City Centre Mall.

The walk of only four blocks was a jarring experience of contrasts.  Coming out of the alley, we passed by Immigration Hall, a newly-renovated, 41-unit housing complex operated by Hope Mission that provides transitional and long-term housing for formerly homeless men and women making important life transitions.  On the next block we passed by the Spady Centre, a community-run street-level detox facility where two peace officers were interrogating a man in the lineup outside of the centre. Just a little bit further, we passed by the main entrance of the EPCOR office tower where crowds of well-dressed people were hurrying out at the end of their workday. A block further, we passed through the lobby of an upscale downtown hotel to gain access to an elevated pedway which led to a side entrance into Edmonton City Centre Mall.  Once in the mall we passed by a jewelry store with beautiful expansive displays. One floor up on the escalator, we entered the sacred space of St. Benedict’s Chapel.

HALF A WORLD AWAY
While most of us know there are homeless people in Edmonton, usually they are at a distance from us. That afternoon, the distance was literally only a couple dozen metres on one hand, and yet half a world away on the other.

Two nights later I was far from the inner city at St. Thomas More Church Hall in Riverbend, attending a community meeting debating a proposed 60-unit supportive housing project for men, women and families making the transition from an earlier experience of homelessness to a new situation of stable, affordable apartments.
Here the visible and societal distance between those with and without homes was narrowing rapidly. The hall was crowded. People spoke with great passion and often with anger. Most who spoke were opposed to the proposed housing project.

Many questions were raised about the building site in Terwillegar Towne, the size of the project, availability of support services and the potential risks posed to the local neighbourhood by the new residents.

FEAR, FRUSTRATION
Underlying public conversations like this is a strong sense of fear, frustration and vulnerability. Some in our Catholic parishes regularly cross this societal divide when they give generously of their time and money and encounter those who are hungry, homeless or poor at the Marian Centre or Inner City Pastoral Ministry in inner city Edmonton or in community or church halls in other parts of the archdiocese.

This is often a spiritually and personally transforming experience for those who give of themselves in this way. However, there is a certain intentionality and clear limits and boundaries in these encounters. There are usually clear time expectations, assigned roles and tasks, and experienced mentors. At the end of the encounter, it is possible to leave and go back to our own homes and communities often a safe distance away.

What is most challenging and often creates fear is when this social divide is crossed unexpectedly without pre-set time and space boundaries. Think of encountering a person begging on the sidewalk or a new service agency or social housing complex on our block.

SPIRITUAL GROUNDING
For Christians, one key reference point is our internal spiritual disposition. In our deepest heart of hearts, is our spiritual grounding: one of love, inclusion, hospitality, solidarity and freedom? Jesus in the Gospel stories provides a perfect model for this. Fear and anger can present obstacles for us to be able to respond from the strength of this spiritual foundation.

As we grow in our discipleship journey following Christ ever more closely, we learn to respond more fully from an internal disposition of love. This does not mean we surrender our responsibility to exercise prudence, wisdom and discernment as we face difficult debates on controversial community projects or when we navigate inner city sidewalks. But it does mean that we start from a spiritual grounding of love, solidarity and welcome, especially to those who are vulnerable and on the margins.

rooted-and-grounded

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

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