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.

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Mark talks Housing

My name is Mark.  I am 13 years old I am in grade eight.  I feel so blessed and excited as our family will take this new chapter of our life. I am so grateful that we are now part of the community that helps many families reach their dreams.  Today is the day we’ve been waiting for.mark-13-habitat

      Having a home is having a strong foundation especially for every child. I describe home as the starting place of love, hope, and dreams. A home is a place where I feel the love of my family, relatives, and friends. This is where I learn how to become a better person every day. This is where I get my energy to get through another day. This is a place of hope where I learn how to get back on my feet, when things are not going well, and having that hope that tomorrow will be better day. This is where my dream of becoming a basketball player someday starts, because I have a place where I can spend watching my favourite sports on TV and do my research on how to enhance my skills in basketball. Having a home is everything to me.  This is where I build myself as a person to become a good citizen today and in the future.
      Moving to a new place means meeting new friends and being in a new community. I just moved to a new school nearby, and at a very short time I have gained new friends already. My family and I are looking forward to know our new neighbours and friends. I am also looking forward to have my very own room for the very first time and this is really exciting for me.

      With all the hard work and passion of all the people who work together to make this possible to us and other families, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. A decent shelter to our family is finally a dream come true. To all the volunteers and donors for your never ending and generous support of Habitat for Humanity – a big and warm thank you! Thank you, Habitat for this wonderful opportunity!

Want to help out?  This year, Habitat for Humanity is building 150 homes across Canada; 75 of these are here in Edmonton.  This year’s Interfaith Habitat Works is from February 23-April 27.  It’s not too late!  Grab a few friends from your faith communities, your workplace or neighbourhood and come work for a day.

Here’s the poster with this year’s details:

habitat-interfaith-most-recent 

 

See Inside: Grand Manor (Excel Society)

Supportive Living Facilities play a crucial role in providing home for people who need the extra help because of age or illness, disability or injury, or even addictions.

Grand Manor is one such facility run by the Excel Society.  They provide home and support for people 25-100 years of age from a variety of needs and backgrounds. The entire facility has 118 individual suites. Three are 1-bedroom apartments, the rest are studio style.

Thirty-two beds are on a secure unit where people are not allowed to leave unless accompanied. Sixteen beds are for PDD (persons with developmental disabilities) – a new program. Edmonton has lots of group homes providing home to PDD tenants, but as people age they need greater support.

Here are the services Grand Manor provides in-house:

  1. 1. On-site support staff: 24-hr LPN care and Health care aide. A Physician is onsite twice per week.  Psychiatrist once per week. Podiatrist once every six weeks. RN, M-F. Supportive living case managers M-F. They have an occupational therapist on-site with a Mental Health specialization who tests a person’s capability, helps them set goals, and perhaps find work).
  2. They have a Harm Reduction Program for people with an uncontrolled habit of alcohol consumption (Managed Alcohol Program). More details below.
  3. They provide Financial counseling to clients who need that assistance; including a program that allows people to live in a cash-free environment, with credit used in the small store on-site.
  4. And of course food! In the older part of the facility, residents from 55 suites use a main dining room. In the newer part of the building, residents meet for lunch on each floor.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How does a person qualify for a supportive living facility like Grand Manor?

Alberta Health Services oversees assessment and placement. People first contact the Continuing Care Access Hotline: 780.496.1300. From there, people are assessed and are connected with facilities that have the proper resources to address their needs

2. How much does room and board cost?

Room and board costs around $1900. Many clients receive funding from AISH or CPP, but others are funded privately through savings or by family support. In the event someone is unable to afford this kind of help, AISH and CPP are able to provide an increase for clients in Supportive Living.

3. How does the Managed Alcohol Program work?

At Grand Manor, staff work with each resident to develop an individual alcohol management plan that takes into consideration how much the resident wants to drink and what the resident can afford to drink. The goal is to determine what is enough to satisfy the resident while still being safe for that person. In some cases, they help the client find a safe level close to what his/her body is accustomed to and then gradually help them taper down. At Grand Manor, alcohol is purchased by staff using funds clients have provided. They then serve the alcohol to people in their rooms in regular doses, perhaps once every hour.

Who is currently in this program? They have people anywhere from 55 to 90 years old. Many of these have severe alcohol addictions and often have mental health issues. Some are men grieving the loss of a spouse who were not doing well on their own, and began to drink more. Others were people living on the streets.

How is a managed alcohol program helpful? Almost all residents that enter the Harm Reduction Program have come with an uncontrolled habit of alcohol consumption. This causes numerous problems such as incontinence, injuries related to falls, alcohol-related dementia, seizures, poor nutrition, and verbal and physical abuse. Through the harm reduction program, Grand Manor has been able to assist the clients to reduce their alcohol intake to a safer consumption that allows them more control over their lives.

A success story: A woman came into Grand Manor from living on the streets. The hospital sent her to Grand Manor to be part of the Managed Alcohol Program. She had diabetes and high blood pressure. Coming into the program, she expressed her view that she doesn’t really enjoy drinking, but that when you are on the street, ‘It’s what you do.’ She began to participate in the recreational programs and make friends. She only drank for a week, and then stopped. Today, she is no longer on any blood pressure meds; is on minimal oral diabetic medication and doesn’t drink at all.

When haven’t people been successful? The program has not worked for people who want to binge drink, and value that more than a roof over their head. Some choose to go back to living on the streets

4. How does financial counseling work at Grand Manor?

Most clients at Grand Manor have a trustee to help them manage their budget. The trustee could be a family member, or their is a staff person who can play that role if need be. In more difficult cases, a person can sign a third-party agreement to directly allocate their income to cover their room and board at Grand Manor.

To learn more about Grand Manor, visit the excel society’s website: http://www.excelsociety.org/care-options/grand-manor