Category Archives: For Heart and Mind

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

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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.

PSH Feature: Westwood Manor

Innovative Efforts Helping People Heal

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a frontline concern in our city; with close to one thousand new units desperately needed.  Political backing and funding are lining up at all three levels of government to fill this critical gap in our response to prevent and end homelessness.  These facilities are meaningful and effective solutions; provide safe and supportive community for people carrying some of the most difficult and complex burdens; barriers that continually jeopardize their health and their ability to retain work and housing.  For these folks, a PSH facility is a space to find healing, hope and community.

But as efforts ramp up to build these facilities, questions abound: What might this look like?  How will it fit into the local neighbourhood?  What will be the impact be on the local community?


Today’s PSH story feature is Westwood Manor; located in the Westwood community, east of the old municipal airport.  A few years ago, the Mustard Seed purchased and renovated a small ageing apartment building in the Westwood Community.  It was fairly run down, and an eyesore in this mature neighbourhood.   Today, this newly renovated facility is home and supportive community for twenty people with a range of complex needs, including drug and alcohol addictions, trauma and mental health barriers like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and chronic depression.

Westwood Manor is rated as a fairly high acuity PSH.  That means they have some higher needs folks living there.  As with all PSH, supports are located on-site; including 24-hour staffing.  Westwood Manor is also a harm-reduction facility, which means that a person’s housing is not dependent on maintaining their sobriety or abstinence.  Tenants have access to sterilized needles and other supplies that will allow them to use safely.

Mustard Seed owns the building, but staffing ratios and operating dollars come from Homeward Trust, with people referred through the Coordinated Access System; that links all such efforts across Edmonton.

Westwood kitchen
A Kitchen Space in one of the apartments

A priority in this facility is the creation of intentional community for their residents; not only within the facility but in the local neighbourhood as well.  The lack of community and healthy relationship has long been recognized as a root cause of both addiction and mental health challenges.  Landon Hildebrand, the facility manager notes that they have seen exciting change already, with significant health improvements.  He says, “Joy, community, attachment…when we provide these things, the addictions have less appeal.””

He notes that mental health concerns are present in every community, but are more raw and hyper-realized in the most vulnerable.  The ability to hide it is just not there.

Their efforts at providing community include building a relationship with local neighbours.  Westwood staff approached the Westwood Community League to learn about getting more involved, and they were welcomed with open arms.  The Community League provided them with a family membership to cover all their residents, and now they are able to participate as volunteers and as full members in community league gatherings.

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Westwood Manor staff also supported the creation of a resident’s committee (much like a condo board) that had authority to consider and respond to concerns.  Staff agreed to take all new policy or rule changes to this committee for their consideration.  This new way of doing things changed how residents related to staff and how they thought about their home.  It prompted a sense of ownership and responsibility in the facility; prompting greater care for the space, the grounds, and each other.  They want their home to be a warm, safe, and healthy environment.  Residents in this kind of leadership role have even helped resolve interpersonal conflicts.  It’s been a win, win, win for everyone!   Landon credits the success of this kind of approach as a direct counter to the myth that people in PSH can’t make good decisions.  “The more authority and leadership we give to our folks, the better they do.”

Westwood’s community-building efforts are a little tricky on some fronts, particularly as they have very little in the way of gathering space to hang out together.  When a suite is empty, the staff will often transform it into a place to hang out, and the office is one place people stop in to chat constantly.  They could also use a secure space where they can have those private and secure conversations, coaching, training, and supports.

But things get much easier in the summer, when they can host outdoor BBQs and feasts, and invite the neighbours.  They also plan to start a community garden this coming year that they hope will promote natural connection between residents and local neighbours.

Is their approach successful?  Landon shares the story of one gentleman whose almost daily ritual was being out panhandling for long hours, stuck in alcohol and substances.  He would get dropped off by EPS almost daily and carried back to his unit.  Now he is there at 3:00 everyday to hang out with the staff during shift change; so he can chat with both those going out and those coming in.  He’s also working to start a local snow shovelling business, and because he is a community league member is able to share some of his posters on the local bulletin board and in the community hall.

Certainly not everyone succeeds, and evictions happen occasionally.  Concerns around safety and difficult behaviors are usually the reason someone has to be removed.  Unfortunately, there are not many places for people to go if they are evicted.  The shortage of PSH in Edmonton means that few facilities are available and equipped to manage and care for people with more difficult behaviors.


Westwood Manor’s story illustrates the value and effectiveness of Permanent Supportive Housing as a meaningful and effective solution.  She provides a place of healing, home, safety and stability for some of our most vulnerable people.  And the efforts by her residents and staff are a lesson in the powerful need we all have for a community where we participate and can take responsibility in shaping.

Based on an Interview with Landon Hildebrand, A Registered Psychologist, Serving as Director of Housing and Clinic development.

Housing as a Human Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Mike Van Boom, CRIHI Housing Ambassador

Befriending Dustin; a Welcome Home Story

Elizabeth and Richard’s [Welcome Home] participant, Dustin has struggled for many years with depression and an addiction to alcohol. When they first started meeting together, he struggled to keep their appointments, wondering if his volunteers were going to judge him because of his addiction. It was hard for him to believe that they really enjoyed his company, and he was often very quiet and withdrawn.

After many months, Dustin began to attend some of the program functions with Elizabeth and Richard, and found that he really enjoyed meeting others from Welcome Home. He felt accepted for who he was, which helped him to develop more self-confidence.

Recently, Dustin took a big step, and went into detox. As is often the case for those with a serious addiction, he had a relapse soon after getting home. However, instead of feeling ashamed and spiraling into depression, he called Elizabeth, and let her know. His willingness to share this part of his journey with his volunteers demonstrates the amazing level of trust that they have built together. Elizabeth and Richard reassured Dustin that they were still there for him, and encouraged him to try again when he felt ready.

Since that relapse, Dustin has applied to a longer-term treatment program, which will help him to address both his addiction and his mental illness. He continues to look forward to the next Welcome Home social, and knows that he has found true friends to journey with him through the many ups and downs of his recovery.


Volunteer with Welcome Home!Welcome home logo
One of the biggest reasons people struggle or fail as they come out of homelessness into housing is loneliness.  Welcome Home assembles and trains a small team of volunteers to walk with someone as a friend.  This is a one-year commitment to go for coffee, go bowling, take long walks, to encourage and pray for a fellow human being on a tough stretch of the road.  ​To find out more information about volunteering contact the Welcome Home Coordinator at 780-378-2544.
https://www.cssalberta.ca/Our-Ministries/Volunteer-Mentoring-Support


 

End Poverty’s Indigenous Circle talks: Reconciliation work in the local neighbourhood


“When I talk to my indigenous neighbours, they express their concern that everybody seems to be watching their house.” 

Fear and suspicion over concerns related to race, class or culture often show up in our communities, even if they are consciously unwanted and rejected in hearts and minds.  What can be done to overcome this unwelcome undercurrent at play in our communities?  How can we find our way to healthy relationships with local neighbours, especially when there are barriers between us?

CRIHI recently had the opportunity to visit End Poverty Edmonton’s Indigenous Circle to seek their wisdom and ideas on how people can pursue practices of reconciliation in their local neighbourhoods.

Here were some of their insights and observations:
“It takes work…  give and take from both.”  As with all relationships, it can be complicated.  Efforts to connect may not always go smoothly.  It may require some commitment on both sides to say this is important and to give it the time and attention it needs.

There are some communities that are thriving already on this front!  One member of the circle shared her experience of a great relationship with her neighbours.  They talk over the fence; shovel each other’s walks (even racing to see who gets there first); weed each other’s gardens and share vegetables; and keep an eye on each other’s places when someone goes away.  People know and support each other.

But others had a very different experience… of local neighbours being cold and unkind.  Another shared the experience of being followed around in a store.

What can people do to build relationship with local neighbours?

  • When you are going into a new community, “look for kind people!”
  • “Become Colour-brave!  Start a conversation and hear my story.  See me as a Cree man, who has been through a lot and struggled…  And let me hear your story of your life and your struggle.”
  • “Say Sorry!”  Share your regrets at what has happened in the past and what another has faced.  Sharing tears can be very healing.
  • Keep extending the welcome!  Continue to reach out with an open hand.  Treat people with kindness and respect.
  • Walk with each other and work together as Allies!  Do things together.  Go with each other to talk to a neighbour or to help someone.  If just one person goes, it will be heard differently than if we go together.
  • And of course, respect each other as equals.  Share food.  Go for Coffee.
Reconciliation won’t always happen the same way or to the same degree between people, but even small steps in the right direction move us forward.
By Mike Van Boom, CRIHI Housing Ambassador