All posts by Inter-Faith Housing Initiative

Learning from Good Consultation

Mayor Don Iveson called the Westmount development a ’10 out of 10!’ Not just for the quality of the affordable housing project, but for the work done engaging with the local community ahead of time.

Come join with other developers, community leaders, and faith representatives as we learn from one of the brightest examples of community consultation done well here in Edmonton: the process developed by both community leaders and the Right at Home Housing Society in North Glenora as part of the recent redevelopment of land owned by Westmount Presbyterian Church


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

  • ARCA Banquet Facility; 14525 127 Street Northwest; Edmonton, AB T6V 0B3
  • Doors open at 6:00pm with a light supper beginning at 6:30pm ;
  • event concludes at 8:30pm
  • We have space and food for fifty participants, so a timely rsvp is encouraged.

Agenda features the following:

Keynote address by Andrew Gregory

Andrew is the community member who chaired the committee overseeing the process used to guide the consultation with the North Glenora community.

Panel discussion with Q&A to follow

Featuring: Cam McDonald (Right at Home Housing Society), Andrew Gregory, Les Young (Westmount Presbyterian Church), and Ryan Young (Past President, North Glenora Community League)

Following the panel discussion, organizers will discuss a consultation resource development project being initialized with grant funding from the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Faith Communities interested in exploring redeveloping of their land are also encouraged to attend, both to learn and to network with others exploring a similar journey.

Please RSVP for this event at the following link: RSVP – Learning from Good Consultation


CRIHI thanks the following partners in hosting and promoting this event:  Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, Al Rashid Mosque, Right at Home Housing Society, and Edmonton Community Foundation. 

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Cheering on the work underway

A second reflection; As shared by Rabbanit Batya Ivry-Friedman at the Interfaith Work and Pray gathering at City Hall on March 27, 2018.

Right now, we see a lot of good work underway, and much to celebrate.  Of course we have a ways to go.  When the ten year plan to end homelessness came forward nine years ago, it identified a strong need for permanent supportive housing.  Functioning much like seniors assisted living facilities, these places assist people with numerous complex barriers; addictions, trauma, mental health barriers, disabilities, and chronic illnesses.  The plan called for a thousand units.  We have built just over two hundred.  A lack of land and funding continue to be the major barriers holding up the work.

We see fear and frustration in local communities.  Racism and classism, a fear of change and a fear of the future are undercurrents that spark higher levels of tension in community discussions.  And of course when consultation is not done well there is a lot of frustration. But that’s the bad news, the good news is that we as a city have a short string of successes behind us recently; with healthy community consultation showing itself to be a key factor! There are some signs of warmth and a willingness to discuss the building of new affordable and supportive housing in communities around the city.  Small fires burning; speaking a message of hospitality and inclusion that can be nurtured and grown.

As people of faith, we can help nurture those small fires; by supporting a healthy and respectful conversation in the local community.  We are even receiving calls from developers looking for some wisdom on how to do this well. The Interfaith Housing Initiative has the opportunity before us now to lead in the possible development of community consultation resources with partners like Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues and property developers.  Gathering a diverse group of people with different ideas together to create something beautiful together can be challenging, however with the potential to do something meaningful and powerful, there is hope, and of course prayers can only help make it more successful.

Another significant challenge is finding land to build affordable or supportive housing.  It’s going to take many compassionate and discerning eyes looking in our neighbourhoods to see the opportunities.  Thankfully, we have a growing number of faith communities coming forward to explore opportunities with their land; to do something like what Westmount Presbyterian did!  It’s an exciting new energy, but also hard work ahead.  How can we support more of our faith communities in having that conversation, and then supporting them to get there?

We are encouraged to see some of the City’s current policy work.  It’s even in their title; discussing the work of creating inclusive, diverse and complete communities.  And City Council is actively backing the creation of better affordable and supportive housing options in neighbourhoods all over the city; recognizing it is not good practice to heavily concentrate services and supports in a few neighbourhoods.  As city efforts and policies gel, we need a lot of wisdom; balancing a defense of the vulnerable with supporting a sensible and constructive path to healthy integration in the local community.

We have reason to cheer on the work taking place; but recognize an urgent need to pray as well.  That’s why we are gathered here today. To ensure that the necessary relationships are forged; that good work is done; that solid commitments are made; that wisdom prevails over fear and suspicion; and that meaningful real-life solutions will take form with as much haste as can be mustered.

Following this reflection, prayers were offered for wisdom to guide current efforts

April Action Highlight: Invite Welcome Home to Visit your Faith Community

This past month, Beth Israel Synagogue hosted Claire Rolheiser from Welcome Home at Rabbi Daniel Friedman’s monthly class.

This month featured “Don’t pass over your neighbour this Passover.” Rabbi Friedman taught that in the Haggadah which we recite at the Passover Seder, we say a special prayer to welcome all those in need. Claire along with volunteer Maria shared their experiences with Welcome Home. Maria told us about her new friend Gloria who now feels comfortable going to the movies on her own when at first she felt scared in going out with anyone let alone by herself.

Claire is ready to present at your place of worship to discuss this meaningful opportunity for volunteers to share the simple gift of genuine friendship to someone coming out of crisis.  Drop her an invite so that folks from your community can learn about and participate in this beautiful program.

For more information, please call:  (780) 378-2544
or visit cssalberta.ca/Welcome Home

After Nine Years, the Landscape has Changed!

What follows is the first of three reflections offered at the Work and Pray Gathering CRIHI held at City Hall on March 27, 2018.  

It has been just over nine years since the ten year plan to end homelessness began.  Are we there yet? Well, there’s still lots to do. But SO MUCH has been done!  The landscape has changed tremendously.  We have seen some real success, and the circle of people working together is wider than it has ever been.

Do we remember the sparks and the series of crises that got us moving?  The tent city that took root in downtown Edmonton.  The massive community uprising in Terwillegar.  And of course, growing stress on many families, with rents rising much faster than their income.  Wait lists for housing help tripled in a few short years, with thousands of people and families on wait lists at every major housing provider.

We learned the shocking numbers around the cost of managing homelessness – just keeping someone alive on the street; with emergency room visits, police encounters, ambulance rides, services, and jail time adding up to a staggering cost of over $100,000 per person per year; balanced against the cost of housing and supporting someone in their own home coming in at around $35,000!

And of course, a statistic that unfortunately has not changed much:  One in four Edmontonians have a hard time affording homes, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on a pace to live, with more than 20,000 households spending over 50% on housing.  And yes, some of those are paying more than 60%.

Some of these challenges are very much still here, and are a reminder to us all that our work is not done.


What has been done thus far?  These events and realities have sparked a real change in the minds of our leaders, and driven a new way of thinking and practice in how we address homelessness in our city.  And that is nothing short of massive!

We have seen Housing First become our leading principle as a city.  No longer do we expect people with addictions or mental illnesses and trauma to get their stuff sorted out before we help them find housing.  Now we say, ‘let’s get you a safe place to call home, and then surround you with the supports and care to help you heal and get back on your feet’.

We’ve made it easier for people looking for help to find it with a no wrong door approach and greater coordination between the different agencies.

As faith communities, we helped develop Welcome Home; a program to support caring volunteers in coming alongside people as they struggled to heal, to overcome challenges, and rebuild their lives.

We have also seen moments of real beauty in the context of supportive housing; with people coming back to life again after years of battling chronic addictions and mental health challenges on the street.

The number of homeless on our streets has dropped from over 3,000 to just over 1,700.  Shelter space usage is also down, with numbers this winter at around 75% capacity on cold winter nights.

And of course, we as faith communities are in the thick of it:

  • We are realizing more and more how important it is to participate in local conversations in our communities.
  • We are hosting workshops on affordable housing and poverty.
  • We are telling each other’s stories.
  • We are getting involved in our community leagues and meeting our neighbours.
  • We are working together with partners to meet the needs of refugees, newcomers to Canada, or families in poverty.
  • We are volunteering in countless places; like Habitat for Humanity; or with Brander Gardens Rocks! Reaching out to low income families with a wide range of partners.
  • We celebrate the example of Millbourne Community Life Centre – who invited a circle of partners to use their space together to provide medical care, cultural training, youth ministry, faith community gatherings, and on and on.
  • We celebrate those faith communities (Beulah Alliance and West Edmonton Christian Assembly) in the West End showing love and care to women in prison, and helping them find their feet again afterward.
  • Westmount Presbyterian Church got all of us thinking as they tore down their aging facility to make room for sixteen large families with a smaller church building next door.  And now we see more than a few faith communities asking the question: How can we create something similar?

And we could go on and on… We haven’t even got to Catholic Social Services, Islamic Family and Social Services Association, Jewish Family Services, or Mennonite Centre for Newcomers

  • Jasper Place Wellness Centre has their medical centre, and a range of different social enterprises helping people rebuild their lives with good work opportunities.
  • We can celebrate the Mustard Seed and their investments in supports and services across the city so that people don’t have to come downtown for help.

We see political alignment on housing solutions at the federal, political and municipal level; with strategies, policies, land investments and dollars moving forward.  Painfully slow, perhaps.  But with people in all these places showing will, heart and courage to make things go.  Our City of Edmonton was recently highlighted internationally as a vanguard city on the front of addressing homelessness for her efforts; an effort which formally recognizes affordable housing as a necessary ingredient for ‘inclusive, diverse and complete communities.’

After nine years, the landscape has changed, and we have plenty of reason to be thankful!

Interfaith Work and Pray Gathering at City Hall, March 27, 2018

Rev. Nick Trussell (Anglican) and Mike Van Boom (CRIHI Housing Ambassador) planned this event at the invitation of a group of five Moravian and Anglican churches journeying together over Holy Week.

Nick remarked on the fittingness of a gathering like this over Holy Week, saying, “just as Jesus lamented over Jerusalem in the days before His crucifixion, so we may lament over our city and the tragic living situation of many of its people. And just as His resurrection brings hope, so we can look forward with hope to better things to come.”

About thirty people from numerous different faith communities came to participate in this gathering, including representatives from Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, Wesleyan, Moravian, the Salvation Army, Sai Baba Centre, United, Lutheran, Anglican, Evangelical, Reformed Church of America, and the Christian Reformed Church.

The event was organized around three reflections on the work being done to address homelessness, with an opportunity for people of faith to respond with prayers of thanksgiving, wisdom, courage and hope.

Pictured above: Three of the eight presentations and prayers offered in support of the work being done to address homelessness in Edmonton

CRIHI shared three reflections at the event, focusing in turn on the work past, present and future.  As Mike Van Boom explained: “These are designed to highlight all the work we are all doing together as a city; and not just the work of CRIHI or faith communities.  The emphasis is on the wide circle of partners working together including faith and community groups, service providers, and all levels of government. “

The three reflections will be shared in separate blog posts on CRIHI’s website.

See additional writeups of this event at:

PSH Feature: Hope Terrace

Hope Terrace is Supportive Living for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD is a brain injury that can occur when an unborn baby is exposed to alcohol.  It’s a lifelong disorder with effects that include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities. These can vary from mild to severe.
(Source: canada.ca; FASD)

According to Ashley Baxter, Manager of Bissell Centre’s FASD programs at Hope Terrace, a prominent feature for those with a stronger disorder is a lack of emotional regulation.  She says we all experience a storm of emotions from time to time; triggered by fear, anger, anxiety, pain or trauma.  Ordinarily, Baxter says, the emotions shoot up from the hippocampus to our reasoning centre, which works like a filter to control our response.  Depending on the person and the severity of their disorder, that filter might not work.  That can result in very strong reactions; a stream of rage and angry words and occasionally a physical acting out will sometimes erupt damaging relationships.  This is of course a source of tension and anxiety for those families and friends struggling to care for a loved one.

Critical to this work of care is committed supporting relationships; especially those strong enough to weather the frequent storms of emotions.  And of course, a stable home situation and access to medications and professional aids go a long way to help a person with FASD find fulfillment and a reasonably stable and meaningful life.

If a person with FASD loses this support and stability their challenge is exponentially harder.  Some end up living on the street and there accumulate a host of other challenges; including trauma, physical health and injury, and addictions to drugs and alcohol as they seek escape from the ongoing pain and struggle.  Helping someone find their way back from this place of anger and despair takes much more than a meal at a soup kitchen.  It requires a stable home, supports, and counseling and a network of committed supporting relationships.  That’s where a place like Hope Terrace comes in.


First opening in January of 2016, Hope Terrace provides permanent supportive housing to twenty three adult (18+) residents with a string of complex challenges, including stronger forms of FASD.  Residents are people with a history of housing instability (homelessness), who may also carry behind them difficult family histories, trauma, and additional mental health challenges (such as oppositional defiance disorder).  Some residents may also struggle with self-harm.

The staff at Hope Terrace are there twenty four-seven to provide stability, support, and care to these residents, according to a model that emphasizes caring relationship.   They are trained to respond to the complex series of needs and challenges, and strive to provide a stable home and community where people can heal and improve their situation.

hope terrace insight-homeless
Photo above by David Bloom


Hope Terrace is a harm reduction facility so residents are allowed to consume alcohol or use drugs in the safety of their home without fear of expulsion.  Baxter notes that this is a privilege most of us enjoy in our own homes and that it provides dignity to people; as opposed to forcing them out onto the street.   “Those seeking refuge in drugs and alcohol do so to try to cope and silence their brain.”  At Hope Terrace, people can be active users and know that those around them understand. If family (especially children) are coming to visit, the staff makes it their regular practice to ensure the resident is sober so that it will be a good visit.

Creating community in the facility is a priority.  A foundational piece of that puzzle is establishing trust, consistency, and honesty as a norm.  Predictable routines and policies ensure that people know that their private details will not be shared, and their space will be honoured.  And they have movie nights, jam sessions, programs, trips to the recreational centre, and other local community events.

Guests are welcomed into the facility as long as they are respectful and follow the rules.  If staff sense that a resident is being taken advantage of (such as friends who tend to come around on payday), they will have a conversation with that resident.  Ultimately, they seek to support positive relationships as supportive community is a need everyone has.


Is Hope Terrace a healthy example of community care?
A critical marker of success is when residents feel connected and safe to talk to the staff, as trust and relationship are critical ingredients to a person’s journey.

As far as examples, Ashley notes that everyone’s stories and situations are very different, so success will look very different for each person.  One person’s success may be finishing high school and looking for a job.  Another’s may be retaining their housing, and slowly becoming healthier.  Certainly, there have been some great indicators.  One person who has never had stable housing has been there for a year and a half; coming home every night!  And they have seen this kind of success fairly broadly, with over fifty percent of their residents coming on board over the last two years settling in for the long term.


Why do people fall away from the program?  Ashley highlights two main reasons:
1. When someone gets physically violent with staff or other residents.  For everyone’s safety, they have to be removed.
2. Difficult roommate situations.  As Hope Terrace is a repurposed apartment complex, nine of the units are two bedroom; requiring two residents to share space.  As emotional deregulation is an issue for many of the residents, living in such close quarters with another does not often go well, so a person will get fed up and walk away from their housing; often back onto the street.


How about the relationship with the local community? 
“For the first year, the local neighbourhood didn’t even know we were there.”   As it was a repurposed apartment and formerly in use by the Terra Centre as home for teen parents and their families, there was no discussion with local neighbours ahead of time, and  after two years, there have not been any concerns raised locally.  There are not too many residential dwellings close by, but there are a few, and some local businesses.   But to date, they have never had a neighbour complain to the police.  Sometimes their residents have called the police, but never local neighbours.  They have only had one concerned neighbour stop in and that was to ask one of the residents to turn down the music in their room.

But there have been some concerns in the local neighbourhood.  As the area is sort of a grey zone with less intensive policing, the Red Alert gang has presence in some of the local houses.  There was a flop house close by that was causing some concern for Hope Terrace residents, but with frequent complaints to the police and SCAN, Hope Terrace staff were able to get it resolved.

Ashley says it is important for residents to feel comfortable out in the community, and not feel “othered.”  Going for a swim at the rec. centre, or for a fire and marshmallows in the park helps people feel comfortable and at home in their community.

Based on an interview with Ashley Baxter, manager of FASD programs at Hope Terrace


To learn more about FASD and how communities can respond well to people with FASD symptoms, please explore the following link for a series of educational sessions: http://fasd.alberta.ca/search.aspx

See the following for another look into the work done by Hope Terrace in the Edmonton Journal: http://edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/hope-terrace-where-success-is-sweet-but-failure-can-break-your-heart

What we Learned at Westmount Presbyterian

“God did this.”  These were the first words spoken by Rev. Annabelle Wallace, as she shared how this incredible project began.

The story of what Westmount Presbyterian Church did, tearing down their building and redeveloping their land to make room for a smaller church structure and sixteen units of large family housing has made news all across the city.  But it all began with an envelope that came across Rev. Wallace’s desk; an invite to an open house by an inner city housing organization addressed to the person who had been there two positions before her.  She decided to open the envelope.  Then she asked Les Young (an elder who didn’t want to be involved in any of the ongoing building discussions taking place at the church) to go check it out.  If either of them had decided not to do anything, nothing would have happened.  But God was on the move, and as the congregation stepped forward this sense of God’s Will and Presence became more and more clear to them.

From This…

To This!

The journey was not without its hurdles, of course.  Andrew Gregory, one of the community members involved in the conversations describes this reaction in the local community:  “In the early vacuum of information, fear of the unknown came to the surface.  Concerns over increased density, impact on property values and increases in crime were imagined, shared and repeated.  “There goes the neighbourhood…”

Andrew says It took dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours of focused effort on both sides to get to “YIMBY”.  But Andrew’s pride for the process they developed and their journey together prompted him to write it all up so that it may help other communities and developers find their way on a similar journey together.  You can find his blog at North Glenora Journey

On the morning of February 20, 2018, CRIHI hosted a tour and conversation at Westmount Presbyterian Church so that faith communities from across Edmonton could come and see what had happened.  Around thirty people participated; going on a tour of one of the units that was home to a family from Myanmar; and then having a chance to have a conversation with those who did so much of the work.

Rev. Wallace and Les Young were able to share this journey from the perspective of the congregation.  They talked about the challenges they had been facing as a small congregation in a large building that was not aging well. They also shared how their experience sponsoring a refugee family alerted them to the difficulty large families have in finding adequate affordable housing.  These were strong factors in helping the congregation choose this direction for their future.

Peter Amerongen from Habitat Studios was able to share his perspective as a designer for the project and as a previous member of Right at Home Society’s board.  He spoke with passion about the need to plan ahead and do things right the first time; especially as design changes and environmental efficiency goals are far more difficult and more expensive to meet after things are built.  He also helped explain (along with Les Young and Rev. Wallace) the fascinating current arrangement that the church now enjoys.
  1. westmount tour 2 The congregation retains ownership of the land, with a 52 year lease with the Right at Home Society.
  2. The Right at Home Society operates as the developer and the landlord; doing all the work of building and looking after both the new church and housing.
  3. The Mennonite Centre for Newcomers does the work of matching qualified families with housing as it becomes available.
  4. The church reenters the space as a renter, with significantly reduced operating costs.  No roofs to fix.  No furnaces to keep going.  The grounds are kept and the sidewalks are shoveled by their new landlord.

In that stretch of time when building was underway, the church did get punted around to a few places.  But it was amazing to see how content and patient the congregation stayed through all of it; in large part because they knew that God was taking them on this journey and would see them through it.

Rev. Janet Taylor, the new Pastor for the congregation was able to share some of what she was seeing happen.  She marveled at the community connection already happening for the new families.  Families were getting involved in the community league, the kids were joining local programs, and relationships were beginning to grow with local neighbours.

Today, a new dynamic is settling in the community, and it is pretty fantastic!

The church has a new home, and is able to move forward with more time and energy for real church work.  Sixteen large immigrant families are given beautiful homes in a lovely neighbourhood.  The local school is no longer in danger of closing due to the influx of 35 new children (this year alone!), and the local community is excited to see new families already becoming involved in the community league and other neighbourhood programs.  The wins just keep coming for everyone!

New homes for sixteen large families in the westmount neighbourhood.

7th Annual Interfaith Habitat Works 2018!

This year’s works project begins on February 27, and goes until the end of May.  Come join us for the kick-off and wrap-up, and for all that is in between!

Habitat interfaith kickoff

Come join us as we gather people of every faith and no faith to work together side by side building homes with Habitat for Humanity.

To register as an individual or group for this project, please consult the link below on the Habitat for Humanity Website:

Interfaith Habitat Works at HFH.org

A Call to Prayer

What follows is a Christian prayer, but we invite you to speak the words and make it your own.


Father God,
We come to you to seek your wisdom and guidance for the work ahead.
We are thankful that Edmonton is a wonderful city, known for its’ warmth and compassion, despite a cold and sometimes hostile climate.  We are thankful for the energy and commitment of her leadership and her citizens.  And we are thankful that we are together able to call this place home.
Lord God, life together is rarely easy.  And despite our general warmth as a community, we acknowledge the presence of many walls that divide us.
Fear of difference.  Fear of change.  Fear of the other.  Fear of the future.
Anger at those who have hurt us.  Anger at changes we do not welcome.  Anger at even our own loneliness, weariness, and sadness.
Father God, we know the future is in your hands, and yet we know you also call us to value wisdom, to live with generosity and compassion and to both do and seek justice.  Today, we ask for your help with these things.
We pray for wisdom for those serving as our leaders in City Council and in both our Legislature and Parliament; as they craft policy and try to steer the narrow path to a healthy, compassionate and strong community of citizens.  Give them clarity and insight in both defending the vulnerable, and encouraging the powerful in a direction that will see all flourish.
We pray for a spirit of generosity and sacrifice to fill the sails of community, and to propel our efforts to provide for those most in need of love and care.  That efforts will not fall flat because we all say, ‘someone else will pay for it.’

And we pray you will strengthen your minds, hearts and hands to both do and seek justice.  Make us good listeners to the cares and concerns of everyone involved.  Give us clarity of sight and judgment as to what is good and right.  And help us in every case to take the side of healthy, compassionate and caring community; where all are welcomed, are cared for, and are given space to live, work, play, heal, and contribute to our common good.

May your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,

In the mighty name of Jesus. Savior, Teacher, Redeemer, King, and Friend.

Amen.

By Pastor Mike Van Boom, Christian Reformed Church