All posts by Inter-Faith Housing Initiative

Unravelling an Unwelcome

 

This past month, in October 2018 we witnessed a very negative letter from an anonymous person in St. Albert to a family of Indigenous neighbours. These words showed up at this family’s door causing enormous hurt and pain, and prompting widespread condemnation across the whole Edmonton Area.

st. albert letter

 

Let’s call it ‘an unwelcome.’


A welcome communicates warmth and openness, hospitality and grace.
An unwelcome is cold and closed, inhospitable and full of judgment.  

Discussions around this dynamic are frequently discussed in CRIHI engagements.  Sometimes our entry to the discussion is intentional, as we discuss hospitality or neighbouring, or to share an experience of being unwelcome.  Very often it simply finds its way forward in different conversations across the city.

Here are a few shared experiences of being unwelcome that have surfaced recently:

  1. Too athletic to fit with the nerds; too book-smart to fit with the Jocks; facing barriers in both circles.
  2. Reactions based on Identity:  Ie. the barriers of being both White and Catholic and working in the indigenous community; building trust is an uphill battle.
  3. Facing a strong negative reaction when sharing an unpopular perspective in a town hall community meeting.
  4. Family gatherings where you no longer feel you belong.
  5. Newly housed and alone in a community that watches you with suspicion.
  6. Your position as a police officer, or a faith leader, or a city employee makes you the target of people’s frustration, fear, anger and hurt.
  7. Landlords who decline to take on riskier tenants because they have been burned in the past.

Listening to some of these examples, let’s ask ourselves:  Are people who hand out ‘unwelcomes’ bad people?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  The reality is that we are all human and subject to human weakness and failings.  An unwelcome often draws it’s strength from roots and experiences of one kind or another.  Some are honest and understandable, some are vicious and cruel, and others may simply be selfish and uncaring.

As Affordable housing in various forms take root in communities around the city, we see many responses with varying degrees of welcome and unwelcome.  Communities usually have questions they want to talk through, and sometimes that process can help resolve fears and worries, and unravel anger and suspicion.  But it does not always do that, and sometimes new tenants will face responses like the letter above; moments of hatred and suspicion that communicate a very strong unwelcome.

One such example took place at a local facility working with people with persistent mental health conditions.  A neighbour burst through the door and loudly accused the tenants there of being a bunch of pedophiles.  Thankfully, there were no tenants in earshot when this happened, but that kind of accusation hurled at vulnerable populations is real, and it is damaging.  But this kind of openly aggressive behavior remains the exception.

The vast majority of unwelcomes are passive and not aggressive.

We simply steer clear of people.  We watch their house or their kids.  We mutter behind closed doors or across the fence with neighbours.  Our smiles are plastic.  And if we are honest with ourselves, this is a battle we all face every day, in our neighbourhood, at school, at work or play.

This is not to say that there is no place for fences or guarding ourselves from potentially harmful situations.  But each situation requires a healthy examination; an unravelling of the unwelcome that is an all-too-easy response for all of us.

Here are a few questions to aid us on that journey:

  1. When I consider engaging with this person/family, what am I afraid of?  (Naming our fears is helpful… even better is to talk these through with someone you trust.)  Be aware that these fears may be rational or irrational, but don’t let them automatically determine your response.
  2. Is there something in my past that feeds this fear?  (This is very possible, and may be part of the reason you are afraid or reluctant to engage.  But challenge yourself with the reality that things could work out very differently this time.)
  3. Do I see the humanity of the other person?  What do I imagine their story to be?  (Challenge: now go talk to them and get the real story if they will share it with you.)
  4. What does your faith require of you?  Does your tradition call you to practice a welcome, even if it means risking yourself?  (Many traditions emphasize exactly that!)
  5. When have I experienced a welcome from someone?  What did it look like?  What did it feel like?  How can I pass that gift along in this situation?

Unravelling the unwelcome in us is not an easy task, and we may battle some very strong resistance.  In my tradition (Christian Reformed), we are instructed to accompany any such work with prayer; seeking God’s help to overcome cold with warmth, despair with hope, fear with faith, and darkness with light, and for protection, courage and strength if that too is required.

The forces that feed an unwelcome are real and powerful.  Let’s fight together for a spirit of welcome to replace the coldness that steals life from our communities.


by Mike Van Boom, Interfaith Network Animator 
Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI)

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Affordable Housing Bus Tour!

On Thursday morning, September 20, several faith leaders and community partners went together on a tour of six different affordable housing complexes.

The tour was organized in partnership with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homeless (ECOHH).  ECOHH is a broad gathering of service providers and stakeholders in Edmonton working together to promote strong and effective solutions in housing and homelessess.  For the last few years, ECOHH has organized tours for politicians and government administration.  This tour organized with CRIHI for faith and community leaders was the first of its kind, and was very appreciated by those who attended.  To learn more about ECOHH, please visit their website at http://ecohh.ca


First stop, Canora Place (10141 153 Street)

Canora Place is Permanent Supportive Housing, level 1, which means it has staff on site twenty four hours a day, but hosts no permanent supports.  Many of her clients are with Housing First, so they receive support from a mobile team of workers, and access many services off-site.  Canora Place is connected with the Jasper Place Wellness Centre and her network of social enterprises in West Edmonton.
Learn more at: http://www.jpwc.ca

Second Stop:  Jeannette Romaniuk residence for families.  (12304 Fort Road)
Finding an affordable home for a large family is a challenge in Edmonton.  The Romaniuk residences operated by Right at Home Housing Society are 4-unit townhouse project for large families. The townhouses offer 5-bedroom units, a rarity in Edmonton’s affordable housing market. These homes opened in July 2012, in the community of Elmwood Park. Rents currently do not exceed 60% of average market rental rates.

Third Stop:  Pregnancy Pathways
A safe place and a care centre for pregnant mothers living on the street or in crisis.  Many of these moms battle active addictions.  Pregnancy Pathways offers a safe and supportive place for mother and child in the months building up to and following childbirth.  This helps both mother and child get the best possible start.  The building (worth $3M) was donated for use by the program in March of 2018 by Architect Gene Dub.  The program is supported out of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.  Learn more by visiting their website: http://www.bmhc.net/pregnancy-pathways.html

Fourth Stop:  Sundance Place, Cooperative Housing

Sundance formed as a cooperative housing association in 1978 in Edmonton’s Riverdale Community.  In cooperative housing, members participate in decisions and responding to needs that emerge.  Three projects are governed by Sundance: Sundance Main (59 townhouses including three wheelchair accessible units), Sundance Expansion (three duplexes and one fourplex) & Sundance Place (nine apartments for members 55 and older).  The units above provide home for many of the cooperatives senior residents.

Fifth Stop:  A Youth Housing Group Home.  (Operated by E4C)
A renovated older house in the parkdale community provides home to teens in crisis.  Young people may find themselves homeless for many reasons, often related to conflict in the home.  A team of staff people helps these young people with a bedroom, shared cooking areas, and support connecting with schooling, job training or counselling.

Sixth Stop:  Ambrose Place, Permanent Supportive Housing
Ambrose Place (below) is a level four PSH, which means it has the highest level of support on site for residents.  Food, health care, addictions support, managed alcohol, and even palliative care services (where necessary) are provided on site.  As a facility with an Indigenous focus, Ambrose Place is also able to practice spiritual care as part of a person’s journey of healing.  Facilities like Ambrose Place are proving to be very effective in helping some of Edmonton’s hardest to house, and chronically homeless citizens.

CRIHI would like to offer special thanks to Jeannette Wright (ECOHH, and City of Edmonton) for arranging the bus and lining up the tour for us.  We are also grateful to our partners at ECOHH and to each of the six locations that opened their doors, and sometimes their living rooms so we could see how this form of help is working in our community.

Edmonton Faith Communities Talk Housing – Event report

On September 6, 2018, Edmonton’s Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI) welcomed representatives from all three levels of government, and all political parties to discuss how we could respond together to the current shortage of affordable and supportive housing in Edmonton, and across the country.

The turnout from faith communities was strong, as was the participation of political representatives from the three levels of government.  Many participants shared their view that this was a very meaningful and informative gathering.  Here is what we did together:

We heard spokespersons from five different traditions speak to how their communities were impacted by current housing challenges.  (videos will be uploaded as they are completed)

  1. Rev. Deborah Hoekstra (United Church of Canada) – CRIHI co-chair
  2. Rev. Rick Chapman (Anglican Diocese of Edmonton) – CRIHI co-chair
  3. Imam Dr. Amin (Rahma Mosque; Muslim Association of Canada)
  4. Russell Auger (Indigenous spiritual care provider at Ambrose Place)
  5. Rev. Menghisteab Teclemariam (Pastor in the Eretrian community; Multicultural Health Brokers)

Following this, CRIHI spokesperson Mike Van Boom presented on the four critical priorities being forwarded as necessary and meaningful housing solutions.

  1. The Portable Housing Benefit
  2. Permanent Supportive Housing
  3. Mobile Support Workers
  4. A Vision for the Way Ahead

Following a brief coffee break, we spent thirty minutes hearing from people with lived experience at local tables.

CRIHI’s partners from the Mustard Seed, Welcome Home, Ambrose Place, Multicultural Health Brokers and E4C arranged for twelve people at different tables.  This was a very meaningful portion of the event, and highlighted successes, challenges and needs of people trying to find their way.

CRIHI then invited five political representatives to respond on behalf of their party or government.  Videos of their responses are below:

Michael Walters, Edmonton City Council

Randy Boissonault, Liberal Party of Canada (Federal)

Garnett Genuis, Conservative Party of Canada (Federal)

Lori Sigurdson, New Democratic Party (Provincial)

Laila Goodridge, United Conservative Party (Provincial)

A note of thanksgiving!

CRIHI would like to express enormous gratitude to the many partners who helped make this event a great success.  Special thanks to our hosts at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly, who donated their space and the time of their staff.  Our gratitude to the political representatives who joined us to learn, to share their interest and give voice to the perspective of their respective political bodies.  And our gratitude to the several faith communities who donated the food and refreshments that greatly enhanced our time together.

Evangel Front

Evangel Pentecostal Assembly…  very gracious hosts to this gathering!


For an additional writeup of this event, please look at the October 2018 Messenger (Anglican Diocese); the feature is on pages 1,6&7.  The link is here.

the New Monasticism (Christian); Locating our Lives in the Abandoned Places of the Empire

Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighbourhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us.

But the gospel calls us to something altogether different.  We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves to the stranger.  Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.  God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.

Movements throughout church history have gone to the desert, to the slums, to the most difficult places on earth to follow Jesus.  For some of us that means remaining in difficult neighbourhoods that we were born into even though folks may think we are crazy for not moving out.  For others it means returning to a difficult neighbourhood after heading off to college or job training to acquire skills – choosing to bring those skills back to where we came from to help restore the broken streets.  And for others it may mean relocating our lives from places of so-called privilege to an abandoned place to offer our gifts for God’s kingdom.

Wherever we come from, Jesus teaches us that good can happen where we are, even if real-estate agents and politicians aren’t interested in our neighbourhoods.  Jesus comes from Nazareth, a town from which folks said nothing good could come.  He knew suffering from the moment he entered the world as a baby refugee born in in the middle of a genocide.  Jesus knew poverty and pain until he was tortured and executed on a Roman cross.  The is the Jesus we are called to follow.  With his coming we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the sufferings of others.  Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly.

One of the best stories of community in the United States comes from the backwoods of Georgia.  In the 1940s, long before the civil rights movement had begun to question the racial divisions in the South, white folks and black folks came together to start Koinonia Farm – a “demonstration plot”for the kingdom of God, as they called it.  Koinonia survived attacks from the Ku Klux Klan in the ’50s and ’60s, tilling the soil and sowing seeds for God’s movement in the least likely of places.

koinonia farm


From Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and OKoro

Edmonton considering a 16% Affordable Housing Target in every neighbourhood

On Monday afternoon, August 13, 2018, city staff will be presenting an affordable housing framework to City Council Executive.  The need for such a framework is driven by the reality of a steep rise in housing cost in many Canadian cities since the turn of the millenium, and numbers from Statistics Canada that tell us almost 50,000 renter households In Edmonton face difficulty finding housing they can afford.

City staff are proposing a city-wide affordable housing framework (laid out in City Policy C601) to guide the planning and development of City-funded affordable housing projects. There are two important changes that this policy recommends:

  1. That to meet the current needs of Edmontonians, the City encourages affordable housing city-wide, and aspires to 16% affordable housing in all neighbourhoods and wards.
  2. That all new affordable housing projects are evaluated against the same five criteria to ensure consistency and transparency.

Recognizing that the geographic location of a development is only one of multiple factors to consider, the framework lays out five criteria to evaluate affordable housing project proposals

  • The degree of affordability (level of rent payments charged in the project)
  • Whether the proposed development has funding from other orders of government
  • The proximity of the development to amenities and supports
  • The overall project design
  • The broader geographic context of the development’s location

This framework aims to provide a consistent way to assess affordable housing funding proposals from community organizations and the private sector. This means that every affordable housing proposal will be evaluated using the same five criteria, and the existing neighbourhood context and services will be taken into consideration when the City looks at funding affordable housing.

Is 16% too much? 

CRIHI has been grappling with the larger question for some time. and has formulated our answer as follows:

A 16% guideline for distribution of affordable housing across Edmonton is not high, and in itself poses no threat to neighbourhood vitality.

Supporting observations:

  1. The research shows little correlation between rates of non-market housing and neighbourhood distress here in Edmonton.
  2. The 16% suggested target is not high when one considers the practice of other jurisdictions with social safety nets comparable to Canada.  For example: the floating city of Ijburg in the Netherlands is intentionally designed with 30% Social housing, 30% home ownership, and 40% market rental on each block.  The Netherlands has been intentionally designing communities with a steady integration of non-market and mixed-income housing developments since the second world war.

To see our answer in the context of the larger question, please see our Housing FAQ:

How much is too much? and supporting research.


Interested to come see and hear the report on August 13?
Come join us!

CRIHI will be there to hear and respond to this report, and is inviting faith community folks to come out in a show of support for meaningful housing solutions.  We anticipate a great deal of interest from other groups as well, so there is likely to be a fairly strong lineup of people to speak to this report.  CRIHI’s voice will be one of them.

This meeting is designated time specific to begin at 1:30 on Monday, August 13 at City Hall, in the River Valley Room.

To access the formal policy proposal, please go to the following link:
http://sirepub.edmonton.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=1964&doctype=AGENDA
Framework and supporting documents are available with the June 18 agenda, under item 6.16

How the Dutch do Affordable Housing

“The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and has a very expensive housing market.  And yet, it also provides one of the best examples in Europe of quality, well-integrated affordable housing. What can Canada learn from their example?”

The Dutch have been at this a long time.  Initial efforts to provide more affordable housing were actually started by private merchants and industrialists in the 1800s who wanted better housing for their workers.  In the early 1900s the government began to be involved, and supported the development of housing associations.  Following WWII, these Housing Associations took on a major role in helping rebuild the country’s housing stock, with intentional focus on making affordable housing accessible to low-income populations all across the country.  In the 1990s, a new deal was made with housing associations, pulling out all government subsidies in exchange for significant freedom in their continued development of housing with at least a portion of this being affordable/social housing.

In recent years, changing regulations, new government tax levies coupled with rising pressures from land scarcity and an influx of new migrants have made this work much harder.  But so much has been done right over the years that the Netherlands is handling these pressures better than many of their counterparts in the EU.


Here’s an overview of some of the history:

dutch housing history
Source:  housing-futures.org


In the Netherlands today, Housing Associations provide for around 60% of the country’s population.  Social housing accounts for 37 per cent of the total stock across the country, and as much as 75 per cent of the total rented stock.  There are well over 300 housing associations at work across the country, with at least one in every municipality.  They are required to function within governmental frameworks, but operate with some freedom, catering to market demand while carrying a social duty to provide for low-income populations.  Many of these housing associations also invest in the life and health of the local community, supporting the growth of local businesses, local schools, and local services like Libraries and community gathering spaces.

The Dutch choose Integration over Segregation
Of particular significance has been the Dutch emphasis on Integration.  Housing associations have long created sustainable mixed-income developments with breakdowns such as:  20% low income; 60% middle income; 20% high income.   In these developments, high income housing helps pay for the low income housing to make it a sustainable model for market development.  As of 1994, housing associations have been able to continue to build on this model entirely without government funding.

Now there is no magic to this model.  Tensions around race, class, faith or cultural background do not simply evaporate when people live in proximity.  These mixed income blocks in the Netherlands experience tensions between homeowners and social renters. But when there is some effort on all sides to bridge gaps, it often leads to a much better understanding of existing issues. In some settings, a community manager was employed to assist with this connection and support efforts at bridge building.

Another example of the Dutch emphasis on integration are the housing units planned and built in the floating city of IJburg (pictured below).  Home to around 20,000 people already, with around 45,000 anticipated upon completion, Housing breakdowns in Ijburg are divided into three categories: 30% of affordable rental units, 30% of private properties, and 40% of market-rate rental units. Each block in IJburg includes these three categories, mixing homeowners, social, and market-rate renters. All residents share playgrounds, courtyards, public squares, shopping centres and canals.

Dutch housing ijburg


Does integration make a difference? 
In other EU countries, like France and Sweden, market forces have largely determined where high-income and low-income housing is located.  That has led to some segregation and even the ghettoization of different populations.  That dynamic has flavoured how well these countries are able to respond to and integrate the influx of migrants and refugees.  New migrants are forced to find homes in less desirable areas of the city, where they often experience less opportunity for employment, negative stigmas, higher stress, longer commutes to work, and less access to social supports.  These challenges serve as significant barriers to healthy integration, and sometimes result in high levels of tension and conflict.  The city of London, in the United Kingdom currently struggles to bring in workers to do low-paying jobs, as local housing is so expensive and low-income workers have to commute as much as two hours.

By way of contrast, In the Netherlands migrants and other low-income populations have much greater choices available for where they can live.  They also benefit from much easier access to support services, and are naturally integrated into the fabric of the community.   Better opportunity for work and for relationship with more established Dutch neighbours makes a difference on how they think about and find their place in their new home.  As has been noted, there is no magic to this approach, and intentional efforts at community-building are necessary to make it work, but the Dutch example shows it can work well.

How do the Dutch rank in the EU on social housing?
“The data show the highest rates of satisfaction in Austria and Finland, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – countries where the social housing sector (or actually municipal rental housing in the case of Sweden) is relatively large and typically houses a wide and diversified population group. Malta also shows a rate of satisfaction, despite having a smaller social housing sector.
Also interesting, users of social housing services tend to give higher quality ratings than non-users – showing that there is still some degree of prejudice and misconceptions about this sector in the wider public.”  (Source: http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-1048/quality-of-life-in-the-eu)

Article by Mike Van Boom, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative 


Further sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/greathomesanddestinations/living-above-and-below-the-waters-surface-in-amsterdam.html

https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/challenges-dutch-inclusive-neighborhood/202861/

https://www.wohnforum.arch.ethz.ch/sites/default/files/tagungen/tagungsbericht_regout.pdf

Edmonton Faith Communities Talk Housing – September 6, 2018

The Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative has invited representatives from all three levels of government, and all political parties to join us on September 6, 2018 as we discuss how to respond together to the current shortage of affordable and supportive housing in Edmonton, and across the country.

At this meeting, many different faith traditions (Muslim, Jewish, Evangelical, Catholic, Anglican, Sikh, Unitarian, Hindu, Lutheran, Christian Reformed, Mennonite, Quaker, Indigenous and numerous other traditions) will stand up together to express their shared concern about a growing challenge impacting friends, family members and neighbours in all our communities: affording a place to call home.

This event will take place at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly from 10am until 1:30pm.

evangel map

Space is limited.  To attend: please register at the following link:  Edmonton Faith Communities Talk Housing


At this event, CRIHI will speak to the following as critical priorities in addressing the current shortage of affordable and supportive housing in Edmonton:

  1. the Portable Housing Benefit. A direct help for the 20,000+ households paying more than 50% of monthly income to rent.
  2. Land, capital, and Long-term support funding for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). PSH has proven itself as direct and effective help for Edmonton’s most vulnerable citizens; providing those with multiple complex needs with appropriate longer-term support and care.
  3. Increased funding for Mobile Support Workers (Ie. Home Care, Housing First support teams)
  4. A vision for the way ahead: Support and encourage Canadian housing providers to shift efforts toward the Netherlands model*.

*Observation: in the Netherlands, housing providers currently house more than sixty percent of the country’s population in sustainable mixed market developments with breakdowns such as: 20% low income; 60% middle income; 20% high income. In these developments, high income housing helps pay for the low income housing to make it a sustainable model for market development. This system required some start up support, but now requires no government funding!


To volunteer for this event (to help with food, hospitality, or audio/visual), or if you are a faith leader willing to speak briefly to the need your community sees in housing, please contact mike@interfaithhousing.ca.

 

Finding Home in Bonnie Doon; Iris Court’s consultation story

Iris Court’s journey into existence was not an easy one.  Their initial effort to set up in the McCauley community was rebuffed as local neighbours, objecting to an already heavy concentration of services and social housing in their community, took the development to court to stop it.

But lessons were learned from that experience, particularly on the need for open and up-front consultation.  In McCauley, residents learned about the project as the groundbreaking ceremony was being celebrated.  When Iris Court was seeking a home in Bonnie Doon, they chose to proceed very differently.

Rubyann Rice, Executive Director for the Schizophrenia Society describes the excitement they had to find an ideal property available with a 21 suite lodge and convent home to the Sisters of Assumption.  The board quickly came on side to pursue this location, and the nuns received their offer to purchase warmly.  Throughout the process, the nuns were in prayer for their effort to succeed.

On the consultation front, they immediately began connection with the Bonnie Doon Community League to keep them informed of their intentions.  The facility needed rezoning to classify as a group home, and so, as required, they also sent out letters to a two blocks radius.  Councillor Ben Henderson helped greatly with connection and counsel on what was working well and went with them into some conversations.

The Society also worked hard to be transparent with their plans and movements.  Letters of invite to meetings at Iris Court went out to neighbours to two conversations hosted in the dining room.  They asked people to submit questions ahead of time, and to help them host these questions they invited people to speak to the answers.  A psychiatrist (serving on the Society’s board) spoke to the services needed.  They also had one of the clients speak to his journey and challenge.

Rubyann notes that having the client speak helped change the perception.  It illustrated the gap between living in a hospital and in a apartment, and the need for supported living.  In his story, they met someone living with schizophrenia.  The fact that his parents were both doctors illustrated that this can happen to anyone.  But Rubyann highlighted that the client they chose was someone who was strong enough to speak and handle the negative language that they knew might arise.

These conversations were far from easy, and they certainly did face some hostility.  But the society patiently worked through people’s questions, and as people became more informed about schizophrenia and mental illness, and received reasonable answers to their questions, that hostility diminished significantly.

Of continuing help to the relationship with the local community is the presence of a Good Neighbour’s Agreement.  With the help of Cllr Henderson, they framed this document to share their commitment to resolving concerns in the neighbourhood.  They also chose to make it a living document, so it can be altered or updated in the future if needed.  A phone number is posted out front of the building in case people have any concerns.

The whole process took about eight months, but at the end of it no community members came out to speak against the rezoning; even with an invitation.  One community member even said, “We should have housing for vulnerable people in every community.”  And today, the relationship with the local community is very positive, because of the efforts to build relationship and connection.

  1. Last year, the Community league swung by to pick up a few tenants for the Christmas party.
  2. Local churches have also been supportive, with a local Baptist church giving pumpkins every fall.  Some tenants would go to service there.
  3. They also have local neighbours come and volunteer from time to time and drop off donations of books and CDs.

The Schizophrenia Society’s efforts at consultation with the local neighbours were rewarded, and today Iris Court has found a wonderful home in the Bonnie Doon Community.


Article by Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with RubyAnn Rice, Executive Director of the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta

See also: PSH Feature: Iris Court; Schizophrenia Society of Alberta

 

PSH Feature: Iris Court; Schizophrenia Society of Alberta

“Imagine a radio playing in your head, and it never shuts off.”

“Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects 300,000 Canadians.    …Interfering with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others, schizophrenia impairs a person’s ability to function to their potential when it is not treated. Unfortunately, no single, simple course of schizophrenia treatment exists.”  Psychosis is a common system of schizophrenia, which is defined as the experience of loss of contact with reality and usually involves hallucinations and delusions.  (Definition from: Schizophrenia Society of Canada)

Unfortunately, some behaviors related to this illness can threaten a person’s ability to keep their apartment or stay housed.  Yelling out loud to nobody…  Acting strangely…  Seeing things that aren’t there…  Delusions and Hallucinations that you act on sometimes.  Most landlords are not in a position to be understanding and/or provide supports.  And without access to adequate supportive housing, many folks with Schizophrenia end up on the street, greatly worsening their situation.

That’s where a place like Iris Court is critically important.  Iris Court provides home to twenty-one tenants diagnosed with this persistent mental illness.  Two staff are on site 24×7 to support tenants and help them retain their housing.  They will help with programming, ensure the safety of residents, and if a person is having a really bad, they have someone to call.

Iris Court is somewhat unique as it is a lodge style Permanent Supportive Housing.  So tenants do not have a private apartment with their own kitchen and living area.  They have a fully furnished bedroom and an ensuite, but everywhere else is shared space.  The on-site kitchen provides three meals a day and snacks.  Food, linen and cleaning supplies are also provided, so all a tenant needs to provide are personal clothing and personal care items.

There are no clinical supports or treatment provided by on-site staff.  If a tenant wants or needs medication supports, they are set up with these by Homecare.

One of the challenges many of the tenants of Iris Court face is that their networks of community, supports and relationships are often more in the City’s core neighbourhoods.  This is particularly true of people finding home there after living on the street.  Some don’t want to live on the south side.  It’s a big change.

However, the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood has proven to be a good place for people to grow and access local community supports.  There is a Pharmacy and a local doctor’s office close by to look after tenant needs.  They also have easy walking access to the local swimming pool, the Library, a Bowling alley, Grocery store, Mall, and Church communities.

Within Iris court, they do much to engage both tenants and their families.  They host a family advisory council to talk about quality of life and what can be improved.  The last Tuesday of every month they also host a multi-tenant meeting, which serves as a place to address concerns, and to generate new ideas.    Out of that grew a social committee, which has helped organize events (with a little staff support), arranged for a Karaoke machine, and did some thinking about pets.   Very soon, they will be getting a dog!


What does success look like? 
Everyone’s story is a little different.
When one tenant came to Iris Court, he was unable to leave the building out of anxiety and fear of people and rejection.  Now he is showing some success.   He is able to go shopping, and take the bus.  He is feeling comfortable in the local community.
Another, tenant wanted to look for a part time job, and found one!
One tenant did so well he moved out.  He got his own place.  Went to school, and has a job!

But Iris Court is not meant to be a transitional home.  It is meant to be home for the long term.

How about drugs and alcohol? 
Several tenants are in recovery, and sobriety is strongly encouraged.  Iris Court is a harm reduction facility, so no one is going to be evicted for coming home drunk.  But staff need to be very considerate of the need of the tenants.  Trueman Macdonald, Director of Housing at Iris Court notes that many are teetering on the edge every day.  If someone is loudly off balance with an addiction, it disrupts a lot of others.

Evictions are not done lightly.
In confronting behaviors of concern, staff usually work on a plan with the tenant to work on the issues.  Macdonald notes that an assault or violent behavior will result in eviction faster.  “Punching a hole in the wall?  Probably not, but it depends on why you did it.  Perhaps you imagined bugs in the wall, or had a voice in your head telling you to do it.” Staff also help tenants who struggle with hoarding or collecting stuff.  In these cases, they do a room visit once a week, with the goal of helping a person learn how to manage their space, as these can be a reason they lose their housing.

As far as other points of success, Trueman Macdonald reports that they have had very little turnover in staff, which is a really good sign.  As well, as part of their licensing as a lodge level facility, Accommodation Standards must be maintained. Guidelines require keeping a daily account of tenants, assessing risk, building maintenance, menu and meal requirements, Macdonald reports that Iris Court has been fully compliant and has been for the last three years.

How are the relationships with local neighbours?  Good!  More on that in the article,  Finding Home in Bonnie Doon; Iris Court’s Consultation Story


Profile by Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Trueman Macdonald, Director of Housing at Iris Court.

Interfaith Habitat Works 2018; the Wrap-Up Party!

On May 31, 2018 CRIHI members gathered at Habitat for Humanity’s Carter Place build to celebrate the work Interfaith volunteers were able to accomplish this year.

Here are the rough numbers:

OVER 300 Volunteers; 48 lunches served!

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to do this work together!  Here are some of our celebratory faces from the Wrap Up Party:

Here are a few of the names and faces above:  We heard faith community representatives from Muslim, Jewish, Sai Baba Centre, Ismaili, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Christian Reformed, Quaker, and Anglican.

CRIHI was pleased to welcome five dignitaries to this event:
Dolores Peterson, Habitat for Humanity Board
City Councillor Mike Nickel, Millwoods
David Shepherd, MLA for Edmonton-Centre
Denise Woollard, MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek
Hon. Richard Feehan, MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford and Minister of Indigenous Relations

Of special mention is CRIHI’s own Fraser Williamson, who we honoured for his tireless efforts the last seven years as coordinator for this Interfaith Habitat Works project.  Fraser, we cannot thank you enough for all your work to make this project so successful!