Celebrating Canadianism Together

Moses is standing atop Mt. Sinai, when God asks him where he wants to take the Israelites, where would be their Promised Land.  Moses glances around at the world and picks what he believes to be the best spot imaginable — abundant natural resources, plenty of room, no external security threats.

“Ca-ca-ca,” he begins to respond with his famous stutter.

Anticipating his answer, God quickly interrupts him and says, “Oh, Canaan?”

“I guess so,” thinks Moses, “but actually what I really had in mind was CANADA!!”

July 1st, 2017 is a special day not just for our country of Canada, but for all our faith communities of Canada.  Sometimes, as Canadians, we look at other nations and imagine that we don’t quite match up to their power and stature.  We look south to the US and feel small next to the world’s superpower.  We stare across the pond and view ourselves as a mere satellite of the British Commonwealth.  Who are we as Canadians and what does that mean to us as Jewish Canadians as Christian Canadians as Sikh Canadians as Muslim Canadians and so on?

The Bible relays the events when we find the Children of Israel who have been wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  Truth be told, it wasn’t a bad life.  Their daily bread came from heaven, they were protected by the Clouds of Glory, and their thirst was quenched by the Well of Miriam that accompanied them on their sojourn.  But one day, Miriam dies and the well is no more.  The people are crying out and Moses does not know what to do.  He turns to the Almighty who tells him to speak to the rock and ask it to issue forth water.

And so Moses gathers the Israelites together and begins talking to the rock.  But alas, no matter how many jokes he tells the rock, how much praise he heaps upon it nothing works.  The problem, our sages explain, is that he’s speaking to the wrong rock, because the correct rock was hidden amongst the other rocks!  And so Moses picks up his staff and strikes the rock.  Not once, but twice.

And all of a sudden, water comes gushing forth, in seemingly limitless supply!  The people are elated.  But not God.  He summons Moses and Aaron and informs them that as a consequence of their disobedience, they will not enter the Promised Land.

As far as Diaspora life goes, we are incredibly blessed to be living in a land of promise, in our beloved country of Canada.  Why is this year so spiritually significant?  Because the name says it all.  In the Jewish linguistic tradition, the word Canada may be subdivided into two words – “kan” which is Hebrew for ‘nest’, and “da” which is Yiddish for ‘here’ or Aramaic for ‘this.’  In other words, this here (our country) is a nest.  What does a nest represent?  Comfort.  Protection.  Happiness.  Soaring above the world.  These are all feelings that we as Canadians share.  What’s more, “kan” also happens to equal 150 – now isn’t that something?!

The great Canadian philosopher, John Ralston Saul, calls Canada a Metis nation.  Instead of seeing ourselves as not quite matching up to Great Britain or the United States, we should take pride in being the premier nation in the world to embody the qualities of multiculturalism and respect for our First Nations fellow citizens. And on that note, certainly this year we celebrate 150 years of the confederation of our nation. Nevertheless, we must always remember that our country, our land, has been here for millennia. Today we acknowledge the First Nations who opened their homeland to us and invited us to join them as a nation, and we express our gratitude to them for the treaty land upon which we stand.  150 years ago, we performed the commandment of “shiluach hakain” – we kissed the mother-bird goodbye and established our own independent nest, a nest where birds of a feather flock together.

But unlike our neighbours to the south or across the pond, birds of a feather don’t have to be ‘American’ or ‘British’ first and everything else, second, in some almost-embarrassed way of hiding one’s ethno-religious identity in the privacy of one’s home, whilst melting into some public ‘everyone’s-the-same’ pot.  Not in Canada.  We can be ‘birds of a feather’ while maintaining our unique cultural identities.

That’s what makes Canada great.  Because being Jewish and Canadian or being Sikh and Canadian or Somali and Canadian is part and parcel of the fabric of Canadian society.  Canadianism is multiculturalism at its very best.  Canadianism means being a proud of your belief.  The better the Sikh I am, the better the Canadian I become.   In Canada, we have created the most unique nest in the history of humankind.

And it’s this unparalleled attitude, this special approach to diplomacy and the brotherhood of man that we bring to the world beyond our borders.  We don’t strike the rock.  We speak to the rock.  A great deal of the work of our Canadian Armed Forces is serving as peacekeepers.  We’re there to negotiate international crises, to assist those in insecure regions of the world, to educate, to train, to advocate for the rights of women and children.

Does that mean we never strike the rock?  Of course, it doesn’t.  Sometimes you need to strike.  The problem occurs when one strikes not once, but twice.  Our approach to the use of force is extremely measured, we go to the ends of the earth to avoid the use of excessive force.  Because we realize that sometimes the ones we’re really targeting have gone, just like Moses’ target rock, and hidden themselves amongst innocent, peaceful good populations.  And when those innocents are displaced and see their lives destroyed, through no fault of their own, we do everything in our power to assist them in rebuilding their lives, either in their locales or in our welcoming Canadian arms.

We excel at and revel in this form of soft power, because as a Metis nation, we have immense and profound respect and love for all human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, or creed.  Canada also contains the same letters as “nekudah” which means ‘point’.  We, as Canadians, get the point.  And we must never feel in any way inferior to any other nation, au contraire (it would have been remiss of us to omit any French!), we must proudly and boldly express this point to the world!

150 years is an incredible milestone.  We have much to be grateful for.  Today we thank God for our great country and we bless our leaders that they remain eternally committed to the awe-inspiring principles of Canadianism.  May we continue for the next 150 years to be the leading nation in the world!

This speech given by Rabbanit  Batya Friedman on Canada Day July 1, 2017 at Beth Israel Synagogue (as published in the Neighbourly, August 2017)

 

A Journey Together in Grief, Healing and Hope

About thirty of us filled the community room at the Edmonton Native Healing Centre on July 6, 2017 for this event created as a collaboration between Interfaith Housing Initiative and End Poverty Edmonton.

Guests for the event came from a host of different faith backgrounds including Jewish, Quaker, Catholic, Anglican, Christian Reformed, Methodist, Unitarian, United, Presbyterian, Eastern Orthodox, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and three leaders from Muslim communities.

Elder Francis Whiskeyjack welcomed us with a smudge and some words of wisdom.  Then a pair from Kairos led us through the blanket exercise, intended to help us experience North American from an indigenous perspective.  We stood together and watched the land disappear from beneath our feet, and our people gradually lost or separated from us.  It was very powerful and very moving; full of grief and loss.

Following that experience, Francis Whiskeyjack led us into a talking circle where we had the opportunity to respond to what we heard together.  Expressions of shock and grief were mingled with those of compassion and hope.  By the end of our conversation, numerous suggestions had been made to help us in our continuing walk together on Turtle Island.  Some of these were recorded as words of wisdom by the group on cards and sheets highlighting the need to listen and understand; to treat each other with love, dignity and respect.  To be humble and appreciative of the perspectives and abilities of others.

Other ideas we had were to make opportunities like this available in the languages of newcomer communities.  We thought this might help them understand some of the history in their new home, and help them consider how they too can join our walk together in this place.

 

Serving Edmonton’s Immigrant Communities

Edmonton is increasingly becoming a destination city for immigrants entering Canada. In 2011, 20.5% of the population in Edmonton were immigrants. Based off a recently published report by Statistics Canada, that number is estimated to rise to 31.7% by 2036. As a result, efficient and effective integration of incoming immigrants and refugees is a crucial priority for Edmonton. Luckily, there are a number of organizations, private and public, whose mission is to help newcomers to Edmonton find their place in their new home.

Alberta and City of Edmonton Services
Both the City and the Provincial governments host centres specifically catered towards orienting and providing information services for newcomers to Edmonton. The Citizen and New Arrival Information Centre, located at City hall, offers information on and assistance in accessing the City’s services in over 150 languages. Simultaneously, the province runs 4 separate Alberta Supports centres across the city. Similar to the New Arrival Information Centre, Alberta Supports connect newcomers with essential services ranging from the International Qualifications Assessment to Alberta’s Child and Health Care services.

Edmonton Immigrant Services Association
For over 30 years, the Edmonton Immigrant Services Association (EISA) has been providing a variety of programs for newcomers to Edmonton. These include their “English as Another Language” classes, the In-School Settlement Services program, the New Neighbors program, and general translation and interpretation services. The EISA places a focus on helping newcomers access existing services and learn about Canadian customs and expectations. Their service helps immigrants with everything from finding and applying to jobs, to obtaining a driver’s license, to just finding some new people to interact and make friends with.

Catholic Social Services
Catholic Social Services (CSS) is the pre-eminent Catholic charity in Edmonton and works to provide a number of services for immigrants in the city. Their primary services focus on settlement and orientation, helping newcomers understand the process of acquiring citizenship, employment, and generally how to integrate with their new communities. CSS also runs the Language Assessment, Referral & Counselling Centre, which runs the officially recognized Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) and Language and Vocational Assessment (LVA) programs.

ASSIST Community Services Centre
ASSIST is another long-running immigrant support centre, having operated in Edmonton for 40 years. Having expanded from its roots in the Chinese community, ASSIST now provides orientation, legal and mental health counselling, aid with employment, and LINC classes. ASSIST is remarkable for providing services in 12 languages: Arabic, English, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Kakwa, Punjabi, Russian, Tagalog and Urdu.

Changing Together: A Centre for Immigrant Women
The Changing Together agency is specifically focused on helping immigrant women. They provide a variety of self-improvement services, including ESL classes, basic computer courses, employment counselling and support, and family support services. Edmonton has the dubious honor of having the third highest unemployment rate for women in Canada, with a correspondingly large gap between women and men’s unemployment rates (8.6% to 5.9%) and average wage (women make $0.59 for every dollar made by men).

Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op and the Multicultural Family Resource Society
These two sister groups focus on bringing multicultural communities together to solve the isolation and lack of support in immigrant communities. Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op began as a response to research indicating immigrant mothers were having difficulty with pre-natal healthcare. The organization trained women in those communities as “brokers” to provide pre-natal health care education in the languages and formats amenable to immigrant mothers. Since then the organization has grown to address senior and youth health concerns, and to generally provide a holistic health service for Edmonton communities. The Multicultural Family Resource Society was built on a similar foundation, but targeted at providing social programs and discussions for families from different cultures. They run programs and consultation groups focusing on multicultural parents, immigrant youth, and on English classes that specifically involve youth in the classroom.

ESPC logoBy Maxwell Jenkins, Research Support Assistant
Edmonton Social Planning Council


Sources:
Morency, J-D., Malenfant, E, C., MacIsaac, S. (2017) Immigration and Diversity: Population Projections for Canada and its Regions, 2011 to 2036. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-551-x/91-551-x2017001-eng.htm
City of Edmonton. (2017) New Resident Programs. Retrieved from: https://www.edmonton.ca/programs_services/programs-new-resident.aspx
Alberta Government. Alberta Support Centres. Retrieved from: https://www.alberta.ca/alberta-supports.aspx
Edmonton Immigrant Services Association. (2017) About Us. Retrieved from: http://www.eisa-edmonton.org/
Edmonton Immigrant Services Association. (2017) Services & Programs. Retrieved from: http://www.eisa-edmonton.org/
Catholic Social Services. (2017) Our Ministries, Immigrant & Refugee Support. Retrieved from: https://www.cssalberta.ca/Our-Ministries/Immigrant-Refugee-Support
ASSIST Community Services Centre. (2017) About Us. Retrieved from: http://assistcsc.org/en/
ASSIST Community Services Centre. (2017) Immigrant Services. Retrieved from: http://assistcsc.org/en/
Changing Together: A Centre for Immigrant Women. (2017) Services. Retrieved from: http://www.changingtogether.com/index.html
Statistics Canada. (2017). Labour Force survey estimates (LFS), by census metropolitan area based on 2011 Census boundaries, sex and age group, annual. CANSIM Table 2820-0129.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (2016). The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2016 – the Gender Gap in Canada’s 25 Biggest Cities. Retrieved from https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2016/10/Best_and_Worst_Places_to_Be_a_Woman2016.pdf
Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op. (2017) Our History. Retrieved from: http://mchb.org/
Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op. (2017) Programs and Services. Retrieved from: http://mchb.org/
Multicultural Family Resource Society. (2017) About Us. Retrieved from: https://www.mfrsedmonton.org/
Multicultural Family Resource Society. (2017) What We Do. Retrieved from: https://www.mfrsedmonton.org/

Protocol is Important in the Indigenous Community

We always have dignitaries at pow wows,’ Said the M.C.  Then he proceeded to introduce one. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Kerry Diotte (this is how it was spelled on his agenda). ‘Looking around he said, “Where is she?” 

Someone quickly said, ‘He’, it’s a he.’ Then the MC was embarrassed and not just a little.  As Mr. Diotte came from behind the MC continued to offer an apology and he was really quite upset about his mistake. Mr. Diotte took the mic and went right into his speech. He didn’t acknowledge the error.  He might have been embarrassed himself.  It was hard to tell. Many people would have mentioned it and tried to make light of it saying something like, ‘You are not the first one to make that mistake and probably won’t be the last,’ trying to generate a chuckle from the young crowd.
Mr. Diotte said the usual things politicians say.  Indigenous dancers had danced earlier and Mr. Diotte mentioned their colorful ‘costumes’.  He looked around the field and mentioned teachings that would take place in the tents.  He finished, and then the next dignitary was introduced. 
For the uninformed, here is the contextualization. Indigenous people refer to their ceremonial and pow wow clothing as regalia or outfits.  It is considered offensive to refer to it as costumes.
Regalia has spiritual significance. Secondly, tipis are not tents. There were 6 tipis in the school field and not one single tent.
So if protocol had been observed by both parties, this embarrassing scenario could have been avoided. Mr. Diotte would have been introduced as ‘Mr. Kerry Diotte, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach and Mr. Diotte would have commented on the regalia being colorful and great learning opportunities taking place in the tipis.
May 25 034 hoop dance 1
 
The event was the annual Miyokisikaw/Cree for It’s a good day, hosted at Delton School May 19, 2017. This year 4 elementary schools participated. Students were bused in from Oliver, Norwood, and John A McDougall Schools. 1200 students, 600 in the morning and 600 in the afternoon had the opportunity to experience 20 stations that included; traditional games, hoop dancing, tipi teachings, storytelling, Metis dancing, and drumming.  Each station was about 20 minutes and the students went from one to the next for half the day. It was gratifying to see young students learning positive things about Indigenous people!
 
Article submitted by:
Sharon A Pasula, M.A., Indigenous Cultural & Educational Helper

Ministry Profile: Millbourne Community Life Centre

Many faith communities wonder how they might go deeper in relationship, and in helping address needs in their local neighbourhood.  Often they will have their own building, and wonder what might be possible if they could just open their doors a little wider.

MIllbourne Community Life Centre, supported by the South Edmonton Alliance Church provides some great food for thought on this front.  They are a faith community who pursued the community centre model of engagement.
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Millbourne Community Life Centre is a busy place!
Close to twenty local partners collaborate with the centre to provide a dizzying array of programming and opportunities in service to both the immediate and larger community in Millwoods.  The local community they minister to is very diverse, and is home to people from a vast range of faiths and cultures, such as, Punjabi, Urdu, Latino, Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, and Arabic.  The socio-economic needs of the surrounding community are also significant, with over 1,400 households that fall within the lowest income bracket, as well as 2,500 subsidized housing units within the eleven communities that make up Millwoods.
Working to respond to those needs, the Millbourne Community Life Centre has become a hot spot in the local community, with many partners coming together to provide: immigration support services, a youth ministry centre, We-can food baskets, conversational cafes to aid in learning conversational English, Pre-natal classes, a food pantry and food bank outlet, a refugee medical clinic, a Community mother’s drop-in, a summer community sports camp, cultural fluency seminars, long distance seminary courses in Cantonese, and cross-cultural internships with the University of Hong Kong.
It is also home to three church communities: City South Church (Pentecostal) – 10am-12pm on Sundays, The Multicultural Alliance Church – starting at 12:15pm, and the Light of Life Filipino church, worshipping at 4pm.
It is open seven days a week, and is a hub for all kinds of help and services embedded in the local community. 

So how did this happen?

Ten years ago, the large brick building at 2101 Millbourne Road was home to the Millbourne Alliance Church.  The congregation had met together for over fifty years, and done much good work together, but they had become an ageing and dwindling congregation.  It was becoming clear the time was upon them to close their doors.
Local Alliance Churches began meeting to consider what to do with the building.  After a time, South Edmonton Alliance Church stepped up to sponsor the building as a community outreach, and in 2011 opened it as a community centre for the very diverse neighbourhood.  From the start, they elected to treat any potential organizations as partners, rather than renters.  They decided all their partners would have a seat at the table, and that they would meet regularly.  Together with new partners, they could help to address challenges faced by people in the community.

As the Centre found its’ feet, those partners gradually came to the table.  One of their anchor partners is Youth Unlimited, who run a youth ministry centre out of the basement.  A few years ago, as a partner they renovated the space as a venue for concerts and other types of programming for their youth, many of whom are from immigrant families and learning together under their Christian mentors, how to be Canadian, and caring citizens in their new home.

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There were certainly some difficult transitional moments.  One of those was the decision to take down the large cross that was on the outside of the building.  There were strong feelings on both sides of the decision.  The purpose for doing so, was to facilitate the coming and going for Muslims and other groups who could access ministries in their building.  Those serving today in the MCLC facility are very mindful and deeply appreciative of the tremendous work and sacrifice of those from the original church family, Millbourne Alliance Church!
One significant shift that happened was in how they saw the building.  Tim Cook, the director at MCLC describes this change as moving from a posture of “protecting our stuff,” to “let’s use this building together.”  That posture has made so much possible, with partners willing to invest in upgrades and some renovations.

Certainly, not everything is simple.  The centre is self-sustaining in operating costs, but currently the building needs some larger repairs, including a new roof and parking lot, and investments to make the upstairs accessible.  Finding the money and resources to effect those major repairs is still in the works, but these are normal challenges.  It is likely solutions to this will be generated out of the continuing fruit of the relationships and partnerships built.  Perhaps they will be able to tell that story too in the days to come.

Where is the heart that drives a community ministry like Millbourne community Life Centre?
That heart is expressed well in their vision statement:  “Millbourne Community Life Centre is a place where all, regardless of ethnic or economic background can come to receive an expression of God’s love and find hope that comes through knowing the gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

      This vision fuels a spirit of warmth and welcome that permeates the place.  There is no pressure employed, or any strings attached to any of the help.  But sometimes prayers are shared, and if anyone wants to understand the heart that drives their hospitality, there are several partners there to walk with them on that journey.

Indigenous Poverty in Alberta

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) (2016), Alberta has among the lowest rates of off-reserve Indigenous child poverty in Canada at 26%. In comparison, Manitoba’s rate is 39% and Saskatchewan’s is 36%. The child poverty rate for those with First Nations status off-reserve in Alberta is approximately 39%, while for Metis children the rate is much lower at 20%. For Indigenous children on reserve in Alberta, the poverty rate skyrockets to 60%. According to the National Household Survey (2011), the poverty rate for Indigenous children in the City of Edmonton is 30%, while for non-Indigenous children the rate is approximately 12% (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016).

Canada’s painful history with residential schools, in addition to the chronic underfunding of Indigenous services both on and off-reserve, has left many First Nations communities living in abject poverty (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016). Indigenous peoples can also experience higher rates of diabetes, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, heart disease and obesity (Ubelacker, 2013).

The experience of being forcibly removed from their cultures, traditions and customs during the residential school period can partly explain the present health challenges experienced by many Indigenous peoples (Howard, 2017). In addition, as a result of the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse experienced by many Indigenous peoples in residential schools, there is a general mistrust of mainstream institutions within Indigenous communities, which can exacerbate existing health struggles by discouraging access to health services (FCSS, 2015).

In addition, Indigenous peoples in Edmonton can experience significant challenges when accessing affordable, adequate and safe housing. In the 2016 Point-in-Time Homeless Count in Edmonton, 1,752 people experiencing homelessness were counted. While Indigenous peoples only account for 5% of the Edmonton population, 48% of the homeless population counted identify as Indigenous. Of those individuals, First Nations peoples are represented most significantly with 316 people counted (7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, 2016)

Indigenous peoples are also overrepresented as food bank users in Alberta. In the 2016 Hunger Count, 33.5% of food bank users identified as Indigenous (Food Banks Canada, 2016).

Indigenous peoples also experience significant challenges obtaining employment in Alberta. In 2016, for example, Indigenous peoples had an unemployment rate of 13.8%, compared to 7.9% within the non-Indigenous population. Indigenous peoples also experience lower labour force participation rates than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In 2016, for example, Indigenous peoples had a participation rate of 70.3%, while non-Indigenous Albertans had a rate of 72.6% (Statistics Canada, 2017).



In conclusion, Indigenous peoples in the City of Edmonton and Alberta experience high rates of child poverty and negative health outcomes resulting from the chronic underfunding of services and the harmful legacy of residential schools (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016). First Nations peoples in Edmonton are also overrepresented within the homeless population and food bank users and experience significant employment barriers (7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, 2016).

ESPC logo
By Heather Curtis, Research Coordinator

Edmonton Social Planning Council


Works Cited
7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness. (2016). Alberta Point-in-Time Homeless Count- Edmonton. Retrieved from   http://homewardtrust.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Homeless-Count-2016-Edmonton-Preliminary-Report.pdf
Family and Community Support Services Calgary (FCSS). (2015). Social Inclusion of Vulnerable Seniors – A review of the literature on best and promising practices working with seniors.
Food Banks Canada. (2016). Hunger Count 2016 – A Comprehensive Report on Hunger and Food Bank Use in Canada, and Recommendations for Change. Retrieved from https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/getmedia/6173994f-8a25-40d9-acdf-660a28e40f37/HungerCount_2016_final_singlepage.pdf
Statistics Canada. (2017). Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by Aboriginal group, sex and age group, Canada, selected provinces and regions, annual. CANSIM Table 282-022
Howard, H. (2014). Canadian Residential Schools and Urban Indigenous Knowledge Production about Diabetes. Medical Anthropology, 33(6), 529-545.
Ubelacker, S. (2013, November 28). Aboriginal seniors face more health challenges, report suggests. CTV News. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/aboriginal-seniors-face-more-health-challenges-report-suggests-1.1564234

Together Against the Cold

There are many Biblical Prophecies pointing to terrible hardship in humanity’s future: Of famine, disease, war, death and global cataclysm.  But the one that scares me the most is a small phrase from Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives about the end times in Matthew 24:12.  He simply says, “…the hearts of most will grow cold.”

Why does this word of prophecy scare me more than the others?  Because when the cold of famine, disease, war and death strike, it is those moments of a sharing humanity (in love, generosity, compassion, and sacrifice) that warm, comfort and preserve us, keeping us alive in the face of hardship.

Today, the world really is a cold place for so many of us experiencing great struggle.  Across the world, we see it in the face of refugees fleeing their homes, and leaving behind country, culture and family.  We see it in the gaunt faces of children in places swept by famine, or in lands made barren by war.  And we see it here in our own families and communities:  In those battling a mental illness and depression, often alone.  In trauma from broken or abusive relationships and violence.  In slavery to addictions.  In bitterness and angry wounds that refuse to heal.  In desperate poverty; lacking food, shelter, safety, and supportive community.  It is an unending shiver that sinks weariness into our bones.

So why do we so often choose to answer this cold with cold?  Like those upstanding model citizens in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we often see the need of a neighbour, but choose to keep our distance and keep walking.  When we are asked to respond in some way to the plight of a refugee or the person seeking an affordable home in our communities, we often choose a cold academic discussion about possible negative pressures and impacts on our way of life over a gentler, deeper, wiser and more compassionate conversation that acknowledges the humanity of our neighbour and seeks health and vibrancy for all.

“The crisis is too big for us to get involved in,” we say.  “Their wounds are too angry, and we do not have the skills to help them.  We need to protect ourselves; afraid that this person may turn around and hurt us.  We do not believe it is possible for someone to heal from this trauma, break from their past, or break from an addiction.  Better to keep our doors locked tight, and let our neighbours sort out whatever hand God, or fate, or their own actions have dealt them.  Best look out for number one.  Best keep walking.”

Or we can choose to respond with warmth and humanity as the Samaritan (an outsider) did in Jesus’ parable.   On seeing this man lying naked and half dead on the side of the road, “he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

For followers of Jesus, choosing the cold response is not an option.  It is true that we as people are limited in what we can do.  We cannot solve every problem, or respond to every crisis, and we must always find time to rest along the way.  But we must always be ready to respond as God calls us: to a life full of love, hope and trust, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, commitment, compassion, hospitality, self-control, wisdom and sacrifice; to live as steady and warm expressions of the loving God we serve.
…so the cold does not win.

Below is a link to a powerful award-winning video that I think speaks beautifully to this work of fighting together against the cold:

The Deepening Community Rap

By Pastor Mike Van Boom, from Centrepointe church (Christian Reformed)

A Journey Together in Grief, Healing and Hope – July 6, 2017

This year the World Indigenous Games are coming to Edmonton on July 2-9, 2017. To align with this event, Edmonton’s Interfaith Housing Initiative and End Poverty, along with partners from the aboriginal community are organizing a gathering with faith leaders, new immigrant community leaders, and members of the aboriginal community. We hope to build bridges for understanding, hope and healthy relationship for our journey together on Turtle Island (North America).

The gathering will take place at: Edmonton Native Healing Centre; 101-11813 123 street.  The event begins at 9:00 am on Thursday, July 6, 2017 and continues until lunch is concluded (around 1:30pm)

Our plan is as follows

1. We will begin with a smudge ceremony/prayer
2. then participate in a blanket exercise; which is a way to experience the major changes in North American History from an aboriginal perspective.
3. We will then move into a talking circle, where we will make space to grieve together, and move toward hope and healing.
4. Afterwards, we will share a meal together (provided).

 

As space is limited to a maximum of forty participants, please respond early in order to ensure you are able to participate.

Send your RSVP to the following email addresses, and indicate any food preferences:
mike@interfaithhousing.ca (Interfaith Housing Initiative)
sam.singh@edmonton.ca (End Poverty Edmonton)

 

On behalf of CRIHI and End Poverty,

Michael Van Boom

Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative

interfaithhousing.ca

 

crihi-logo-full  EndPovertyEDM_2C

 

Brander Gardens ROCKS!

…and so do the many partners (including local faith communities) who have come together to make it possible!

    Going to school in a more affluent neighbourhood can be a tough challenge for kids who are from low income families or are new to Canada.  They watch their classmates regularly head off to Mexico for vacations.  Opportunities like music lessons or getting onto higher level sports teams can be out of reach as their families need to invest far greater energy into paying the bills and keeping food on the table; along with confronting a host of other barriers like language and cultural literacy.  The opportunities for these kids just aren’t the same.

That’s where a program like BG Rocks comes in; a grass root organization involving many of the families living in the Brander Gardens housing complex operated by Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC).  This program offers help, opportunity and builds community far beyond what CRHC is able to provide.  It is the community’s involvement in the program that contributes to the success.  The organization leads away from ‘Us versus Them’ thinking to one of working together in the community.

Brander Garden ROCKS offers after school programs, a music school, community gardens, community meals, Mom and Tot programs, summer programs including camping, academic programs, and adult enrichment programs (including community involvement with WECAN food basket, make tax time pay, art enrichment, providing help with English and opportunities to volunteer right in their community).

What really makes something like this succeed is the strong circle of support they have received from neighbourhood partners. There are nearly thirty collaborative partners such as local schools, community leagues and libraries that have partnered with Brander Gardens ROCKS.  Organizations like Sports Central, KidSport and the local Terwillegar Riverbend Soccer Association support nearly thirty youth each year to participate in the soccer program.  The Community league pays for the use of the Gym at the Junior High and offers space for the Mom and Tots program.  The Terwillegar Riverbend Advisory Council helps by hosting information on their website and is their fiscal partner. The financial support of REACH and the City of Edmonton, and Canada Summer Jobs make this a broad community effort!

One key partner for BG Rocks is the Riverbend United Church.  RUC has a long-term commitment to the local neighbourhood, and that brought them to the table right at the beginning.  The church was quick to open their doors, and became one of the key facilities used by kids and families in the program.  They provide a free room for teaching, which currently hosts a family literacy course.  RUC also began hosting a community meal every year, inviting the broad community including some Syrian families.  BG Rocks families are invited to help do the shopping and cook the meal with the RUC volunteers, and this shared effort makes for a wonderful and special event.  According to the coordinator Sharon Gritter, when she needs volunteers, Riverbend United Church is one of the first groups she approaches.

BG Rocks dinner painting
In the photo above: Volunteers from Riverbend United Church and youth and families from BG ROCKS together paint tiles for the national Canada 150 mosaic; which aims to win a place in the Guiness Book of World Records!

What does success look like?
‘Kids are being mentored!’  Sharon says, ‘When a kid you have been working hard with (and challenging) crosses the finish line at the end of a long race, it is really moving.’  Because of their sports programs they are seeing kids make it onto the local Junior High teams.  They get to do fun things like go camping, and go on field trips.  It strengthens and enriches the lives of the kids and families, and it connects them in a supportive community.   BG ROCKS! is a great example of what a local community can do to ensure all their neighbours have a chance to flourish!

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with BG Rocks director, Sharon Gritter

Martina’s Story

In October of 2016, Martina (once a teen parent needing help) shared her story at a workshop CRIHI hosted in the Riverbend/Terwillegar community. 

“Thank you to [CRIHI] for inviting me to share some of my personal experiences and thoughts related to safe and affordable housing.  I hope I can give voice to the thousands of Edmontonians who seek safe and affordable housing.”

My name is Martina Crory.  I am 23 years old, a mother to my adorable 3-year-old son Jude, a third-year university student at MacEwan, and I was recently accepted into the honours program in political science.

I grew up living with my mom.  She had few marketable skills and as a result we moved from Halifax to Edmonton hoping for more opportunities.  Unfortunately, those hopes never came to be.  We continued to live in poverty with little income and limited housing options.  We moved around a lot and it never really felt like I had a home.  As a young person growing up, it was chaotic and disruptive.  Every time I moved I would have to leave some things behind or things would get lost moving.  It was not a very stable way for a teenager to grow up.

When you don’t have stable housing, your life is not stable.  At nineteen years, old I found myself pregnant; a single parent.  If things were tough, I knew they were going to be tougher.  I reached out to the Terra Centre for teen parents, and for the past three years they have been by my side providing support in so many ways.

My son Jude and I ended up living in a walk up off 107 Ave.  My laundry would get stolen, there was always the smell of pot in the building.  It was noisy, and there was nowhere for kids to play outside.  This is not what I wanted for Jude.  I knew the risks of these environments.  I looked around for a better safe place for us to live, but the rents were beyond my reach.

Although that was a challenge, what seemed even more challenging in finding decent safe and affordable housing were the assumptions and judgements that I faced as a young single parent.  Landlords and the general public did not see me as a young parent with potential and capabilities; they saw me as a reckless, irresponsible and inadequate mom; nothing further than the truth.

It was a difficult time.  I applied for subsidized housing with Capital Region Housing, but with a two-year wait list I felt so defeated.  Terra had just started a new housing partnership with Brentwood Family Housing Society and I was accepted.

When I first went to see what was to be my new home, I was speechless.  It was in a quiet community with other families.  It had playgrounds, and my townhouse had a washer and dryer.  This was like a dream come true for me.  When I moved in, it was the first time I could remember that it felt like it was home.  Because of the subsidy, Brentwood offers, it was affordable, based on my student income.  I started to feel like there was hope.  I started to believe I could pursue my dreams of graduating from University.  For the past two years, I have been living in safe and affordable housing.  Because of that, I have been able to make great gains in reaching my goals.

I am proud of my academic accomplishments, of raising a well-adjusted, happy and healthy child.  I feel like I am part of the community and I am getting ahead.  I am even the proud owner of a ‘mom car.’  I can afford it because of subsidized rent.  It may not look pretty, but if I need to take Jude to the hospital at 2:00am I can do that.  I can drive him to his skating lessons.  I can spend more quality time with him; saving more than two hours a day from riding the bus; time I can spend with him.

Affordable housing gives me security and options.  I don’t have to choose between rent and good food for Jude.  We never owned a home growing up, or had much stable housing.  I think life would have been much different if we had.  I dream of owning my own home one day, and I know pursuing my educational goals will help me to achieve that.  Having affordable housing today is helping me to reach that goal.  I know that subsidized housing will not always be necessary; but I am grateful that I have been able to benefit from it.

As you spend time today listing about affordable housing and the people who need this support, please consider the following:

  1. People who need affordable housing have goals; I don’t think most want to have a subsidy.
  2. We want to give our kids a home and provide them with stability and opportunity.
  3. If you have children, what we want for our children is no different than what you want for your children.
  4. We want to give back, not just take; affordable housing can help make that happen.
  5. We need more people to care about our community; what kind of community are we cultivating for our children and what we can teach our children about inclusion.

Thank you for taking the time for this discussion today and caring about our community.

 

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

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