Category Archives: For Heart and Mind

Understanding and Responding to Nimbyism (Not in My Back Yard)

As cities all over North America work to provide low-income households a safe and affordable home, they face numerous persistent barriers.  These include the high cost of land, the search for funding for development, policy and zoning, and a very human challenge: Nimbyism in the local community.

Here’s a story to illustrate the challenge of Nimbyism:
A few years ago, I ran into an old friend at a consultation for a new affordable housing complex proposed for her neighbourhood, and asked her what she thought.  She said, “Look, I get it that everyone needs a place to live, and that we need more places like this, but here?  On the corner of my park?  My kids have to walk past there all the time on their way to school.”

Now I know my friend to be a caring and compassionate person, and a great mom.  But faced with this change, she had a strong reaction; one sometimes referred to in shorthand as a NIMBY reaction:  “Not In My Back Yard.”

On May 14, 2019, the Interfaith Housing Initiative hosted a workshop at Queen Alexandra Community League called “Understanding and Responding to Nimbyism.”  This was the third of four workshops in a series called, “Getting Consultation Right!”  This event featured two panels of speakers, including three housing providers and two community leaders all willing to share their experience and insight in how to both understand and respond to Nimbyism.    You can watch the full panel discussion at the link below, or keep reading for a summary of key points:

Here is some of what we learned together:

How can we understand Nimbyism?
Here is a working definition we are using:  Nimbyism (Not in My Back Yard)  is a (sometimes) strong reaction or response to more significant changes in a local area; especially those perceived as possibly negative.

So how should we understand why people react as they do?
In our second panel discussion, Fraser Porter, the current president of the Edmonton Federation of Community leagues observed that “Love and attachment are the root causes. We love our neighbourhoods and we resist change because we worry something we love is being lost.”

That natural fear of change was also noted by Carola Cunningham, who serves as CEO of Niginan Developments, a provider of Permanent Supportive Housing.  Cunnningham noted that “it is only natural to object and respond with fear to the unknown (color, culture, addiction, etc) and all those things must be meaningfully addressed to have an honest dialogue.

Certainly, the love for what we have and the fear of losing it are very powerful impulses. Some of those fears may be connected to structural changes to infrastructure such as parking and traffic flow, the fit and flow of architecture, the loss of trees or open spaces.  But other fears may centre around who the new neighbours might be, and how they will integrate into the local community.

Q: How can we respond well to Nimbyism?
The answer that seemed to come forward from our panelists was to respond to fears with clear, honest and open communication; working to build both a shared understanding and a trusting relationship moving forward.  To do that, the housing provider should avoid thinking about or treating local neighbours as opponents, even if there are strong feelings or anger.  As with all relationships, how we conduct ourselves in the midst of conflict can either inflame or resolve concerns.

Sherri Shorten, a community voice from Holyrood said it was important to “Believe in the community voice. The people in our community were hurt by being called NIMBY. It broke down relationships when they were bringing truly valid concerns to the table.” 

Cam McDonald from Right at Home Housing Society noted that:  “What was important in the North Glenora context was an openness on both sides. What I learned was just how much the community was willing to give to create a shared vision and understanding.

Demonstrating openness and a will to patiently answer people’s questions makes room for trust, and for the community to also give of themselves to the health of the project and their new neighbours.

Consultation pic

Q: Is it problematic to tell the community about the health problems of residents?
At one level, even talking about who is going to live in a new housing development seems problematic.  In Canada, no one has the right to choose their neighbours, and discrimination based on age, ability, illness, race or culture, or religious belief is not permitted.  But our panelists responded in favour of answering those questions openly and honestly.

“It can be heard in comments like, “How do you screen your tenants? How do you ensure our community remains safe?  At my house I don’t get to pick who is my next-door neighbour. The zoning bylaw is very clear. It’s not about the USER, its about the USE. However, its so important that you don’t offend the people you’re talking to. You do have to address their concerns.” (Cam Macdonald, Right at Home Housing Society)

Trueman Macdonald, who oversees the work at Iris Court a supportive home for formerly homeless persons with schizophrenia shared their approach:  “We actually saw it as an opportunity to educate the community as well. It was just natural for us to talk about it. Our whole mandate is advocacy and breaking down those barriers. Our people with lived experience want to get their stories out to reduce the stigma surrounding their illness.”

Addressing people’s concerns with patience and respect is the best way to help them better understand and put their fears and concerns into context.  It also paves the way for understanding and healthy long-term relationships in the local community.

A very helpful tool in this regard are Good Neighbour Agreements.  With Iris Court, the Schizophrenia society provided a detailed “Good Neighbour Agreement” to the local community that included info regarding tenants, services, house rules, and how the organization planned to respond to community complaints.  Having a clear plan and a process available showed the community the strength of Iris Court’s commitment to being a good neighbour.  It also helped the tenants feel safe and secure in their new community.

The Nimby response is a very ordinary and human reaction to change in a local community.  Good consultation takes the time to work through people’s questions and concerns openly and honestly, without judging them or treating them as opponents.  A patient approach builds toward a trusting relationship between the local community and the developer.  In the space of that relationship, honest and constructive engagement is able to flow, supporting the long-term health and vitality of the project, the local community, and those finding a home there.


By Mike Van Boom, Network Animator for Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI)

The article is presented as a summary of key learnings in this third, of four workshops in a resource design project hosted by CRIHI, involving community leaders, housing providers and people of faith in a collaborative creation of consultation resources.   The full resources we have developed together will be delivered in the fall of 2019; made possible by a grant from the Edmonton Community Foundation, with Al Rashid Mosque serving as fiscal agent for the project.

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Working in my Community, Part Two

So you’re interested in working in your community…  As you begin, consider the following insights from those involved in community development work.

Before you dig into this session, please ensure you have read part one in this series: Working In My Community; Part One

Part Two Focus: Let’s find our way forward carefully, and make sure we do no harm.


The Oath for Compassionate Service

  1. Listen first.
  2. Never do for another what they can do for themselves.
  3. Limit one-way giving to emergencies; then stop.  (Sustained one-way giving creates a dependency; often diminishing a person’s capacity)
  4. Strive to empower the materially poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  5. Keep your self-interest secondary to the needs of those being served.
  6. Listen closely to those you seek to help
  7. Above all, do no harm.

(Provided by Robert Lupton in Toxic Charity)


DO NO HARM

“Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” 

Research from around the world has found that shame – a “poverty of being”- is a major part of the brokenness that low-income people experience in relationship with themselves. …low-income people often feel they are inferior to others.  This can paralyze the poor from taking initiative and from seizing opportunities to improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty.

At the same time, the economically rich …also suffer from a poverty of being.  In particular, development practitioner Jayakumar Christian argues that the economically rich often have ‘god-complexes,’ a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts.  …the way that we act toward the economically poor often communiicates – albeit unintentionally – that we are superior and they are inferior.  In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves.”

When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert


how can i help

Consider these three levels of help we can provide.   


Relief
The urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering.
Giving a sandwich to someone who is hungry; taking someone in out of the cold, or calling an ambulance for someone injured.

Rehabilitation
Restoring people to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions.

Assistance finding housing, or a job and reconnection with their family.

Development
A process of ongoing change that moves all people involved to right relationships to ourselves, to others, to God and to the creation.
Helping someone find a supportive community, belonging, purpose, mentoring, healing from trauma and addictions.

*Warning:  Hurt comes when we apply the wrong intervention.
Example:  Sustained one-way giving (relief work) creates a dependency; often diminishing a person’s capacity.  (points one and three in the oath of compassion.


Most people in North America are capable of participation in the improvement of their lives, so we should always be doing development work.  “Let’s figure this out together.”

To watch for along the way…

  1. Look for systemic issues and then also focus on advocacy. [ie. working (helping yourself) while on social assistance means reduction in benefits.]
  2. The design, implementation and evaluation should be done by all participating.

Here’s a great Edmonton example of community development:

The Riverbend neighbourhood is home to a pocket of affordable housing in a community called Brander Gardens.  A circle of local organizations including the school, churches, the library, the community league, and local sports programs came together to develop an outreach program called Brander Gardens ROCKS! that provides all kinds of different opportunities for the kids and families.

Riverbend United Church has been a strong partner from the beginning, opening up space for programming, and providing volunteers.  Every year, they host a community meal inviting the broad community including some Syrian families.  But rather than just having church volunteers provide lunch for the community, they chose to invite BG Rocks families to participate in every stage.  So these families help plan the meal, do the shopping, and cook the meal with the church’s volunteers.  This shared effort makes for a wonderful and special event that is rewarding for everybody.


BG Rocks families gathering with Riverbend United Church members

 

Working In My Community; Part One

So you’re interested in working in your community…    As you begin, consider the following insights from those involved in community development work.


Look before you leap!  What do you see?

“Imagine that my neighbours only saw me by the the empty half of my glass.  He’s the old guy with heart problems…   How would they treat me then?” – John McKnight


Here’s a true story

 

Not so long ago, in a city not unlike our own, there was a church who wanted to find a way to give back to their community.  So they did some driving around in a few neighbourhoods where there was a lot of poverty.  After a while, they found an area where they saw a lot of young families with kids, but no place for the kids to play.  But there was a big empty lot there.  They called up the city and discovered that this piece of property was actually zoned as a public park, but no one had built it.

So they did a fundraiser, purchased the materials, loaded up the trucks in the church parking lot, and went out with a crew of volunteers.  After a few hours, they completed the task,and invited the neighbours for a celebratory BBQ.  Gradually two circles formed; one of neighbours and one of the church volunteers.  Eventually, a few of the church volunteers went over to talk to the neighbours and asked what they thought of the playground.

The neighbours answered honestly.  “Actually we’re a little discouraged about this.  You see we had our own plans to build a playground here.  This empty lot…  We were the ones who got it zoned as a playground.  But you never came to talk to us to see what we wanted or what we thought.”


The point in telling a story like this is not to heap abuse on the efforts of well-meaning volunteers; it’s to get us thinking about unintentional consequences, and about what a better approach might look like.  So consider these questions:

  1. When this church community looked at this neighbourhood, what did they see?  Did they see it by the full half or the empty half of the glass?
  2. What was their relationship with the community like throughout the process?
  3. Was there any harm done unintentionally to this local community?
  4. What might they have done differently that would have made this a very positive example?

Consider this chart that provides a helpful framework.   It asks us to consider how we do things as parents, churches, governments, or other institutions.  We hope it will help you discover how to do the work of loving our neighbour and our community in a way that nurtures health and vitality in each other (sharing from the full half of our glass).

How should we do this..?

Here are a few points to consider when engaging your community:
1. Successful community development is asset-based, internally-focused, and relationship driven.  (Whatever we do, we do it with!)
2. Lasting change comes from within the community.
3. Engaging people’s skills is a priority.  (work with local assets; the full half of the glass)

“to be effective community-builders, faith congregations need to function as both ‘faith communities,’and place-based communities.” 

  • As Faith communities, they should understand and lift up the gifts and talents of its members.
  • As Place-based communities, they should play a role alongside other entities within their specific neighbourhood, discovering and engaging assets in the local community.

What can this look like?  Consider this true (slightly better) example.


Another church community wanted to get involved in their community and get to know their neighbours.  So every Sunday morning, they did a March for Jesus in the blocks surrounding their church.  They put a Ghetto blaster on a stroller (old school!), and picked up garbage or cleaned up Graffiti as they went.  Over time, they began to meet and have conversations with their neighours.  Some neighbours were inspired to fix broken windows and clean up their yards.  Eventually, the neighbours shared that they had difficulty getting rid of larger junk.  So the church set up a dumpster on their property to help local neighbours clear out their garbage.

More to come…

There is much more to consider on this, but we hope to continue this series on community development in the Neighbourly over the course of the next few months.


Do you have a story or an example to share as to help us as we learn together?  Please send it our way!  Email: Mike@interfaithhousing.ca


Key stories and examples in this reflection were featured in a January workshop hosted at Southpointe Community Church called “Helping without Harming” by Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew. 

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)

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

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.

PSH Feature: Balwin Place

Supportive Housing for Heavy Users of Service


In April of 2018, Edmonton celebrated the grand opening of a new place of home and healing for twenty-five of her most vulnerable citizens.  First opening its doors to new tenants in late 2017, Balwin Place is an example of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), which marries stable housing to staffing and supports designed to help people battling multiple complex needs and challenges.

For many of these folks, life on the street is all that they can look forward to, with many losing years of their life there.  Living in a perpetual state of crisis is very hard on a person, with enormous health consequences physically, emotionally and spiritually.  It is a life of constantly being under threat:

  1. Threats from the weather, with the cold and damp causing illness or loss of life and limb
  2. Threats from physical violence, with few places of safety available
  3. Threats mental and emotional, with even a relatively brief experience of life on the street causing trauma that can take a long time to recover from.
Richard Sanders, PSH program manager at Balwin Place (with George Spady Society) says there are some of those who don’t want homes, and choose to live rough.   For some of these folks abuse and trauma has so impacted them, that they don’t want it.  As one gentleman once told him: “I don’t need four walls around me because I don’t need to be in Jail.”  But many others find themselves cast adrift, living life on the street because they have no place to go.  For some, the struggle is so intense that they find themselves losing years of their life to the street, becoming what some categorize as heavy users of service; with frequent encounters with the police, numerous hospital stays and a steady use of other emergency services.

Who is finding home at Balwin Place? 
Every story is different.  Some folks were in treatment at Alberta Hospital, but then were released back into the community without any supports or plan; and they fell down long and hard. Some had a more gradual fall, surfing on the couches of family and friends while battling addictions, and exhausting important relationships.  Some are there as part of the lasting legacy of residential schools.  Others fell hard after a major life trauma, and were simply not able to recover.

One of the first folks to find home at Balwin Place was Ryan Arcand, whose story went viral around the world for his gifts of playing the piano.  Along with stable housing, Ryan was receiving help on a number of fronts including Balwin’s Managed Alcohol Program.  Sadly, Ryan died recently after only a few months of finding home at Balwin Place, which was a very hard loss for the community there.   But they were thankful he was able to die in a place of dignity.  The rooftop garden area was given his name as a memorial.

How does Balwin Place work?
Homeward Trust owns the building.  George Spady is the operator, overseeing staff and working with the assistance of Alberta Health Services to provide appropriate supports.  Balwin Place is a harm reduction facility, which means that people are allowed to continue to use drugs or alcohol without losing their housing.  Instead, a stable and supportive environment enables people to get stronger and healther, and that will sometimes result in strength and will to break with their addictions.

Safety is a critical priority at Balwin Place.  Cameras and sensors are used to monitor the facility, and staff are on site around the clock to guard the safety of the residents, which includes help with guest management.  Natural supports like visits from family and friends are encouraged, but the rule is they can’t stay or live at Balwin.   Having staff on site also helps guard residents from gangs and other criminal activity.

Balwin Place employs two case managers to work with the tenants.  They also receive visits from a psych nurse, an occupational therapist, recreational therapist, support worker, and on site healthcare from a licensed practical nurse and two health care aides.   They also receive support from a crisis worker from the George Spady mobile support team.

Rent is calculated at 20% below market housing.  Currently that is $865 per month which covers rent, cable, internet, TV, and a partially furnished one bedroom apartment.  This still leaves a few hundred for the resident to live on, but of course, that’s a very tight budget.

How does Change Happen?
Sanders observes that most residents are not used to having the supports or people to coach them.  On streets you are in survival mode.  Every month when paycheques hit the streets, it’s ‘Mardi Gras.’   People with addictions like gambling, alcohol, or drugs often spend what they get on a binge.  The self-talk leading up to payday is usually more hopeful, with many folks saying ‘This month, it’s going to be different.  I’m going to get me a place!  I have a plan.’  Then the paycheque hits the ground, and they fall down again.  Part of the reason they fail again and again is that they don’t have the means and support to follow through.

What helps the resident make a change is having people help them out.  The different support staff at Balwin are involved everyday, teaching life skills and living skills.  Hands-on coaching and learning in how to wash dishes, do laundry, cook, get groceries, and make budgets and keep their plans.  Sanders notes that most people know what they need to do, but they need people to believe in them and encourage them, and help them get up when they fall.

Patience is critical to this effort.  Some people have been in crisis for many years, with a lot of damage done.  Healing and change is also likely to take years.  The philosophy of harm reduction that undergirds the facility gives permission for that incremental change to take place; for the small steps forward, and the frequent failures that may also punctuate someone’s story.  Many of the residents have behaviors that get in the way.  Sanders observes, ‘Trauma, life history all play a role in behaviors.’  Some residents have poor boundaries or impulse control, and will push buttons to test the commitment of staff.  But for many of the residents at Balwin, this is their last stop.  Without a strong level of commitment and patience from staff, a resident could be too easily cut loose, ending up back on the street.  Staff are reluctant to remove someone from the program if they have nowhere else to go.  Instead, they pursue a restorative model that includes strategies of behavior modification; to try and make things work.

One way that staff model that patience is by banning the word ‘eviction’ from their vocabulary.  No one receives an eviction notice.  Instead a person would receive a conversation letter.  Whenever challenging behaviors erupt from a resident, whether its physical or verbal aggression, staff call that resident to a conversation.  They talk through what is happening, and look together at what they (staff and resident) can do to make this work; knowing that if they can’t sort it out, then the street is often the only option available.  That conversation can help both staff and resident make a plan for how they can change their behaviors; allowing them to stay on board.

Below:  At the Balwin Place Grand opening, April 17, 2018


balwin-place-opening-april-17-18


Managing Money, Food, Alcohol  
Balwin’s case managers sit down with their different clients and help them make a budget and a plan.  It’s complex work, of course.  Budgets are tight.  Some residents have trustees to help manage their funds.  Some have volunteers go with them to buy their monthly amount of alcohol.  And sometimes help is given with grocery shopping to help people make those decisions early on, before the money is gone.  When you do that kind of work with folks you can have some of those conversations, such as:  “Okay, you only have $120 left…  But you have your rent paid, and food, and when your family comes to visit, you can make something for them.  Looks like you won’t be able to use as much this month.”   It’s an opportunity to (in gentle ways) reinforce the good decisions.

How about relationship with the local community?
Sanders says the neighbours have been pretty amicable and laid back.  They did a tour and held a Q&A with local community folks in March of 2018, where they were able to talk through people’s questions.  They have had some neat expressions of support.  Balwin Community League organized a movie night to collect non-perishable food items to help out residents.  St. Francis of Assisi School is nearby, and helps arrange for food hampers.

Sometimes the police do need to come, or the ambulance.  Sanders says that people can be quick to judge, asking, ‘What’s the point of having a place like this if these things continue to happen?’  But once people come and hear what happened, they are more understanding.

As far as giving back to the community, Sanders says that Balwin place is still new, and settling in to roles and responsibilities.  Some residents are making their way around and finding ways to give back; like helping with clean sweep.  But a lot of folks are still in a lot of distress and aren’t able to give back much yet.

Does it work? 
If there can be two observations drawn, they are as follows:

  1. The work of healing and change takes time, with a lot of small changes.  Sanders says, the harm reduction philosophy allows for incremental changes (small steps) that are significant.  When change happens in small ways, residents don’t even see it all the time.  But when the staff show them some of the changes that are take place, it is exciting for them.
  2. It takes a community to support this change.  There is the community of organizations and funders that make a place like Balwin Place possible.  And there is the community of people who are willing to provide support and community in ways large and small.
    • Serving as a trustee
    • Taking someone out for coffee or to get groceries or alcohol
    • People to collect and distribute food donations.
    • Simple responses of compassion and understanding.

Permanent supportive housing is an evidence-based intervention that links permanent, affordable housing with flexible, voluntary support services to assist with housing retention and independent living. Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust says that with 900 units of Permanent Supportive Housing needed in the Edmonton area, Balwin Place is a welcome addition to the city. “Increasing Permanent Supportive Housing spaces in neighbourhoods across the city is an urgent priority under Edmonton’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.”

 

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.