What We Did Together at Plenary

CRIHI’s plenary gathering on November 28, 2017 was of critical importance for us as a movement.  New changes and announcements were taking place in Edmonton and even across the country.  So it seemed appropriate for us as faith communities to take a good look at what we have done, what we are doing, and what we would like to do together moving forward.


The Process – How did we get here?
In September 2017, CRIHI Steering Committee recognized that it was time to update their Call to Action and to align their action items alongside the City’s Updated Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in Edmonton. In October 2017 CRIHI Steering Committee had a planning day facilitated by the City of Edmonton and Homeward Trust Edmonton to help design and organize a plenary that would sustain and grow CRIHI. The focus was to look at where the work of CRIHI fits with the three goals of the Update Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. This planning session generated some new ideas for the movement to consider.  This information was gathered and integrated with the CRIHI September 2017, Revised Call to Action.  The information from the October Planning session and the integrated five approaches of Engagement, Advocacy, Education, Support, and Volunteer were brought to the Plenary Meeting for everyone to hear about, discuss and contribute their ideas.  The goal and focus of the Plenary was to be participatory so that TOGETHER the faith groups would map out the prioritized action items.

Pastor Stanley


The Plenary
More than eighty people representing at least sixteen different faiths and thirteen community organizations came to Beulah Alliance on November 28, 2017 to participate in a plenary gathering of the Interfaith Housing Initiative.  We were greeted by Archbishop Richard Smith and Bishop Jane Alexander, and by our hosts at Beulah Alliance: Pastor Keith Taylor (pictured above), and Pastor Bonnie Hodge. Co-Chair Deborah acknowledged the presence of all the representation from the various faith groups and from the front line agencies. Rabbanit Batya refreshed us on the history of our movement as an Interfaith housing community and the work we have done so far together. She presented the updated Call to Action and informed us of the work ahead after we had heard a summary of the city’s updated plan to end homelessness. Our partners at Homeward Trust introduced us to updates.  And then we moved to working groups to design practical actions in five areas of our work together: Engage; Advocate; Educate; Support; Volunteer.

Here are some of the highlights coming out of our five working groups.  Each group was asked to focus on a specific task and dig into some practical ideas and suggestions.

The full report is available on our website at: https://interfaithhousinginitiative.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/full-plenary-report-november-28-2017.pdf


Engage:

Task: Build Network of faith, coordinated access screening, engage faith communities to become a stop-gap preventing potential homelessness.
  1. The group considered how faith communities can be better equipped to address local needs.
  2. One area that concerned the group was how faith communities could better be involved in preventing eviction; noting the plight of renters grappling with finances, cleanliness and pest control.
  3. Suggested faith communities could provide funding and volunteers to aid tenants in crisis, and help them overcome barriers and gaps in knowledge or local services.

Advocate:
Task:  Alleviate fear and misconceptions of permanent supportive housing.

  1. The group recognized several key challenges, and suggested the best way to overcome fears and worries in the local community is to create opportunities for people to interact on a personal level with possible new neighbours.
  2. Key action idea:  Host a four part speaker series.  Partner with local community league and faith communities to plan and host it.  Learn and laugh together with music, plan and group building exercises   Series to cover mental health, addictions, support for those coming out of prison, and affordable housing.

Task: Generate videos and media capacity.

  1. Bombard people with current information. Outline what you can do and where to donate items eg. Furniture. Use one sentence/message every morning.
  2. Link with city—other stakeholders for support and longer term social marketing plan.
  3. Engage with university campuses, and work toward a segment on Primetime Alberta

Task: Host a large-scale event.

  1. Host forums or presentations framed around a direct question.  Raise awareness of unjust systems; casting light on the roots of homelessness.
  2. Make the event fun and less threatening and advertise to the public. Incorporate music, poetry and theatre and other activities to help bring the message.
  3. A barrier will be finding where the money is to support a large-scale event.

Educate:
Task:  Motivate and equip faith communities to connect with the local community.

  1. Shared ideas and suggestions on how to nurture local connections between different faith communities, and also local organizations like community leagues.
  2. Suggested meeting at different faith centres; finding joint projects (an interfaith version of “No Room in the Inn” campaign was suggested); spending time together so that we get to know each other, and inviting each other to special events and festivals.

Task: Action that will address the question: ‘What is Housing First?’

  1. Identified a need to educate on why we use this approach as a city.
  2. Suggested identifying key individuals to be spokespersons who are more publicly known and respected.
  3. Develop a range of materials, questions, speaking notes and videos for all audiences.
  4. Suggested tapping faith communities to share knowledge, fact sheets and information with smaller groups

Support:
Task: Sustaining and expanding the Welcome Home program (including funding).

  1. Suggested having volunteers and participants be part of the public face of the program.
  2. Considered how the program might partner with Abundant Communities (a city-supported neighbouring movement taking root in over forty communities across the city).
  3. Story telling was identified as a powerful promotion tool, and they suggested utilizing existing faith community networks to promote the program, and find both volunteers and fundraise for specific needs.

Volunteer:
Task:  Actively working together as an Interfaith Community.

  1. Prioritized enabling person to person first contact; equipping people for healthy engagement with people off the street or in social housing.
  2. Suggested using social media to promote more volunteer opportunities, and setting up a calendar with various work taking place in faith communities.
  3. Suggested hosting volunteer block connectors (Abundant Communities) within faith community to help grown and structure networks in local neighbourhoods.

Next Steps

The Governance committee will meet and discuss the full report and bring forward the suggested action items that are doable with suggested timelines and goals to the Steering Committee.  The Steering Committee will then meet and the suggested ideas and decide on how to proceed. Participants are encouraged to watch for updates and opportunities related to this work in upcoming issues of The Neighbourly, and on CRIHI’s website and facebook page.

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Housing as a Human Right?

For the first time on November 22, 2017 the Government of Canada formally began speaking about housing as a human right.  While this has been recognized by the international community for some time, this marked an important recognition of the obligation we have as a country to ensure everyone has a safe and decent place to call home.

To unpack some of the implications and meaning of this recognition, I sat down with Jim Gurnett, a longtime housing advocate and promoter of housing as a human right.  Here’s some of what he shared with me:

“Human rights are always fuzzy and hard to pin down.  All human rights today are based on UN declarations.  The problem is that they don’t compel any nations to do something.  They simply state an obligation.”

“With housing it gets more complicated.  The rights language gives us a way of thinking about housing, but not a black and white pathway to answers about what governments or communities can do.  Even if Canada signs on to this obligation, what are the measurables of whether that right is being satisfied or not?  The amount of money you have as a state can make it impossible to do much.”

“It also doesn’t directly feed into legal obligation.  For example, Ontario courts have noted of some other rights, that even if something is a right, it’s not something we can enforce.  A legal obligation can materialize if there becomes Canadian legislation to enforce housing as a right.  Our Prime Minister hinted at that possibility in his November 22 announcement, but it was very vague.  Moving forward, the Government will be considering what that might mean.  Currently there is no legisltation in action that you could bring to the human rights commission to say ‘my right to housing has been violated.'”

“But here’s what I like about it.  It makes us uncomfortable with the fact that some people don’t have this basic need met, and gets us exploring how we can work to resolve that.  It gets us talking about the fact that we are not doing a good job.  If a nation has homelessness, it is not doing enough.  It gets us talking together about why some people don’t have the help they need.”

As I concluded this conversation with Jim, I came to the understanding that human rights language serves to remind us of our obligations as citizens of earth; obligations that the world has said together are critical and necessary.  Obligation to protect freedom of speech and religion, peaceful assembly and association, to combat slavery, and to provide each other with basic needs like food, water and yes, adequate housing (Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Interview by Mike Van Boom, CRIHI Housing Ambassador

West Edmonton Talks Affordable Housing

Housing affordability is a growing challenge for many of our Edmonton neighbours.  Wages have risen more slowly than housing costs.  The climb into home ownership is getting more difficult, and many low-income households are paying far more than they can afford in rent, with over 20,000 households paying more than 50% of their monthly income.

Some of our neighbours have a much harder time affording a home; especially those battling mental health challenges, disabilities, caught in an addiction or recovering from trauma.  Over the last few years, we have learned how critical stable and affordable housing is for the health of an individual or family; especially in promoting healing and recovery.  But helping these neighbours requires more than just more money to pay the rent.  They also need supports, and (like all of us) a community of people who love and care.

Most everyone agrees that this work is critically important, but where it often gets tricky is when we are asked to make room in our communities and neighbourhoods.  Then our ideals are put to the test.


The Workshop

On November 18, 2017, the Interfaith Housing Initiative hosted a workshop in West Edmonton called, What’s Your Wisdom on Affordable Housing?   Community league members, local neighbours, non-profit housing providers, and a few faith community folks sat down for a healthy conversation.  We talked about the challenges; looked at some of the solutions; heard from a housing provider and a young mom who needed help providing a home for her son; and then we had a chance to talk about how and where we might be able to make room in our communities for neighbours needing a safe, stable and supportive home in a welcoming community.

What's your wisdom


What we heard:

Those who were present for the conversation expressed that they were not worried about new neighbours.

  • “Affordable housing can be a bridge for a person to improve their life.”
  • “I am open to having affordable housing in my neighbourhood.
  • “We already have Habitat for Humanity in my area.  I like it, and am in favour of the mixed market approach – no ghettos.”

They promoted a healthy posture/response when new developments seek a home nearby:

  • “Tell me more.”  Promoted a willingness to listen, and be curious.  Sometimes saying no isn’t the best option – how can both parties have a win-win?
  • Find out more about why they want to put things in – educate yourself about the project. Find common ground. Could end up bringing good things to the community.”
  • “Find out what has happened in other communities. Canora Place is nominated every year for Yards in Bloom, residents go out and pick up garbage in the area. They bring good things to the neighbourhood! Lots of added value to their community.”

We talked through logistical challenges; what will sensibly fit here?  The group brought forward both questions and solutions.

  • “Challenge around neighbourhood design – fine with new neighbors, but problems with access to services traffic, etc. how can it fit within the requirements for the buildings (architectural guidelines). The area is very restrictive in how things look – fences have to be a certain colour, etc.”  Maybe a senior’s support centre?
  • “Very open in our neighbourhood. Already have quite a mixed market in the area. Problem – very high property values. Would like to see more affordable housing in the area – would like to bring property values down.” – (Note of clarification was given that the research says, units of affordable housing will not impact property values any different than a comparable market development.)
  • “Question around back-lane housing – can we build back-yard suites and offer them as affordable housing? Lots of innovative possibilities exist.  City is more open than it used to be – issue is more the neighbourhood push-back. Can we handle the parking, extra traffic, etc. Lots of people are buying houses in the area and renting them out.”
  • One challenge was noted, that lots of renting in an area leads to a more transient population.  This can be a problem for a community.  Suggested mixed market can help with that – people can transition from affordable to market housing without having to move. Active community leagues and good resources can help people to stay in a neighbourhood. How can we encourage people to stay in a community? Food for good (a program of Jasper Place Wellness Centre) – creating food stability so that people don’t have to leave to get food. Build relationships and a good foundation to keep people in place.
  • Lewis Estates – not much available land.  People would need a certain basic level of income to live here.  But, we can offer subsidized housing to bring more people in. Problem – access to services.  On the flip side, bringing in more people with a need for services, could lead to more services being offered in the community.

The group did discuss possibilities in other parts of the city.

  • Many faith communities have land – it’s a great opportunity for them to be involved in creative new housing project (example from the Right at Home presentation: Westmount Presbyterian Church developed 16 units of large family housing).  Lots of churches are dwindling but have great land packages. They’re often in better areas with more services.
  • What about Northlands? Lots of resources in the area.The group discussed the old Remand Centre – lots of potential with that area. Some housing, also lots of resources and services. Questions about the new arena – what will happen to Hope Mission and some of the other inner-city agencies? Can we build more of these agencies throughout the city so we don’t always have to go downtown to access services?

Some Advice on Consultation

  • There’s a surplus school site in the area; a tense conversation. Importance of consultation with the community – a challenge for the local community to figure out what the right questions are to ask.
  • The group discussed how change and transformation can happen:  Some have been able to acknowledge their fear of change – recognizing the undercurrents in communities. People need a place to express their fears – we can often carry attitudes that we aren’t even aware of (e.g. racism). Once we acknowledge our fears, we can start to wonder why we have them in the first place. We don’t often have a safe place to do that – social media certainly isn’t a good forum for that.

Key Questions and Answers:

Will affordable housing affect neighbouring property values?

  • The research says, quality, well-managed units of affordable housing will not impact property values any different than a comparable market development.”  If someone was to build an apartment complex in your neighbourhood, it may impact your property values positively or negatively; depending on a lot of factors.  The research says it doesn’t matter whether that complex is affordable or not.

On the 10% guideline in every neighbourhood.  “Can we understand the needs of the city on a geographical level? What’s the rationale?

  • CRIHI clarified that the city is working on sorting this out right now – they want to find sensible solutions.  A decision like this is motivated by the desire to create well-integrated affordable housing options in all areas of the city.  Observation by concerned neighbour: We need to figure out what will work in each area (sensible).”

There is more affordable land in industrial areas – how could this be used for housing?

  • Challenge: There’s no infrastructure. Needs planning to make it work.

How can we do better planning?

  • Millwoods was an example – they thought ahead in the planning stages.  The stock is fairly old now, but it did work to provide for the development of a mixed-income community (discussed the loss of inclusionary zoning practice due to court challenge in the 70s).

CRIHI expresses profound gratitude to our hosts at West Edmonton Baptist Church, who took such good care of us.  As well, we are grateful to those who came and contributed to this workshop, sharing with us their ideas, experience, wisdom and insight.  As you can tell, we learned a lot together!

A Message of Love for 2018: “Love All, Serve All”


Start the day with love; fill the day with love; spend the day with love; end the day with love—this is the way to God”.  “Love is the source; love is the path; and love is the goal”.  “The best way to love God is to love all; serve all

These are a few quotes of Sathya Sai Baba.  Sai Baba teaches us to see the oneness of all humanity through selfless service to others.  We are all children of one God, he says.  His quotes on Unity of Faiths, describe this oneness eloquently.  He says, “There is only one religion – the religion of Love”.   He teaches us to follow the religion we have accepted and practice it wholeheartedly as “All Religions are pathways to One God.  If you are a Christian, be a better Christian; if you are a Muslim, be a better Muslim; if you are a Hindu, be a better Hindu”… and so on.

For 86 years of his life, Sai Baba taught through personal example how to Love All and Serve All.  His own life is testament to these words.  Through his teachings and humanitarian work, he has inspired millions of followers in 126 countries around the world establishing 2000+ centers.  The main purpose of the Sathya Sai International Organization (SSIO) is to help one realize one’s innate Divinity by the practice of Divine Love through selfless service.  This Divine love is unconditional, pure, selfless and directed towards God with one-pointedness.

Jesus Christ, also said, “Love thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul and strength; and love thy neighbour as thyself”. The apostle St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians said, “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love”.

Recognizing that the people and the planet can only be saved through love, Baba teaches that it is only through individual self-transformation, can we achieve community and national transformation and bring peace to the world.   Instead of proselytizing, he says we should transform ourselves by following the five fundamental human values of Truth, Right Conduct, Peace, Love and Non Violence.  Each of us must first work on ourselves; confront and overcome our own biases to be an example that others may emulate.  His statement “Be like the rose that speaks silently in the language of fragrance” sets the expectation of personal refinement first.  The following declaration clearly explains this.

“Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world”

Food, clothing, health and education are the fundamental right of every human being, Sai Baba taught. He established completely free educational institutions from KG to PG (post-graduation); free tertiary care hospitals of highest standards to serve anyone in need.  It is said that the only department not present in his institutions is the ‘billing’ department.  Inspired by his example, his followers around the world are continuing to perform selfless service through the SSIO.  The free medical and educational models Baba established can be replicated in the modern world only through selfless love.

This love manifests itself through service to others.  Selfless service is perhaps the single most efficient and universal tool for understanding, experiencing and expressing this Divine Principle of Love. Service is love in action. Sai Baba has made it clear that the quality of service is most important, not the quantity. The motive behind service is the deciding factor. When we render service, we should feel that we are serving God.  Baba says, “Service to man is service to God”.  “The act of service is not to be judged, according to the cost or publicity it entails; it may be only the offering of a cup of water in the depth of a jungle. But the need of the recipient, the mood of the person who offers—these decide whether the act is gold or lead. Fill every act of yours with love. Let no one suffer the slightest pain as a result of your thought, word or deed. Let this be your spiritual discipline”.

Mother Teresa was a stellar example of demonstrating her love for Jesus through selfless service.   Mother Teresa believed, “the miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it” as “each one of them (those she served) is Jesus in disguise”.  There are many examples of others who served humanity and in their own way demonstrated Divine Love.  The prophets and saints of the world’s religions operated from that fiber of Divine Love and served humanity.  Some examples are St. Francis of Assisi, Prophets Mohammad, Buddha, Zarathustra, and the many Avatars of Hinduism.  All these exalted ones served humanity believing in the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man.  Baba further exhorts:

 “Serve everybody with the conviction that God dwells in all. As you serve others, you have to kill your ego. It cannot be called service if it is done with the feeling that “I am serving others”.  Do all actions to please God.  This is the attitude one should have while serving others”.

Here, Sai Baba cautions us about major obstacles that stand in the way of selfless service.  They are ego and attachment.  It is not what you do to others that matters, it is what that service does to you that matters, he explains.  A true Sathya Sai volunteer strives to overcome these obstacles to selfless service through self-inquiry.  The two subjects—love and selfless service—are, therefore, foundational and integrally related to seeing the oneness of humanity and creation.

Once a reporter asked Mother Teresa, as she was cleaning the hundreds of maggots off the body of a homeless person lying helpless in the streets of Kolkata, why she would perform such a repugnant act.  The reporter expressed his disgust saying he would not do anything like that even for a million dollars.  Mother Teresa lovingly responded.  “Neither would I, for a million dollars, but I would do it for Jesus”.  In effect, Sai Baba’s words “Love All Serve All’ has been demonstrated by the pure hearted souls mentioned above.

As we enter 2018, let us pray together to raise our own consciousness through the practice of these words, serve others with that Divine Love within each of us.

Submitted by:
Sathya Sai Baba Center of Edmonton

five truths