If my kid can do it…

It all started with a request for sidewalk chalk.

My family was walking the few blocks home after church one Sunday afternoon, when my four-year-old daughter asked my wife to have some sidewalk chalk from her purse.  She then proceeded to begin drawing arrows all down the sidewalk.

After a while, we asked her about why she was drawing these arrows, and she said to us, “so people can find our house!”
“Oh!” we said.  And what’s happening at our house?
(Parent’s note: We were planning a nice quiet afternoon as it was our last day with Nana, who was visiting from Ontario)
“We’re having a tea party!” said she.
“Oh really!  And where are we having this tea party?”
“On the sidewalk!”

So, as happens regularly with parents raising young children, our plans for a chilled afternoon with Nana were hijacked by an exciting new idea from the mind and heart of our child.

Here’s what we did:  We brought out a few chairs and a small table and set it up on the sidewalk at the foot of our driveway.  We set out the tea.  We knocked on a few doors to invite people who lived nearby, and for the next two and a half hours we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon chatting with our neighbours.

Our Italian neighbours from around the corner brought out some cookies to share.  The eighty-year-old woman on the corner who had lived in this neighbourhood for over 60 years came out and told us stories; including how she raised her six kids in her little 650 square foot house.  People walking their dogs stopped to visit, and we even had one or two homeless neighbours stop by for a cookie and some tea.  It was a wonderful and beautiful experience.

Today, it is a reminder to me of what is possible with a little heart, imagination and courage.  Poverty takes many forms and is in every community.  Some of that poverty is relational; taking the form of loneliness and isolation.  All of us find ourselves there sometimes.  The answer to much of the poverty we experience is found when we experience real community together.

How does that community start?  With a little hospitality!   And hey, if my kid can do it, so can I!

By Mike Van Boom, from Edmonton’s McCauley Community

A Catholic Reflection: Spiritual Grounding in Bridging Societal Divides

Article first published in the Western Catholic Reporter on September 16, 2013
by BOB MCKEON

Last month I attended an afternoon meeting at the Marian Centre in inner city Edmonton. At the end of the meeting, I was invited to join with the Marian Centre staff for the 5:15 pm Mass at St. Benedict’s Chapel at Edmonton’s City Centre Mall.

The walk of only four blocks was a jarring experience of contrasts.  Coming out of the alley, we passed by Immigration Hall, a newly-renovated, 41-unit housing complex operated by Hope Mission that provides transitional and long-term housing for formerly homeless men and women making important life transitions.  On the next block we passed by the Spady Centre, a community-run street-level detox facility where two peace officers were interrogating a man in the lineup outside of the centre. Just a little bit further, we passed by the main entrance of the EPCOR office tower where crowds of well-dressed people were hurrying out at the end of their workday. A block further, we passed through the lobby of an upscale downtown hotel to gain access to an elevated pedway which led to a side entrance into Edmonton City Centre Mall.  Once in the mall we passed by a jewelry store with beautiful expansive displays. One floor up on the escalator, we entered the sacred space of St. Benedict’s Chapel.

HALF A WORLD AWAY
While most of us know there are homeless people in Edmonton, usually they are at a distance from us. That afternoon, the distance was literally only a couple dozen metres on one hand, and yet half a world away on the other.

Two nights later I was far from the inner city at St. Thomas More Church Hall in Riverbend, attending a community meeting debating a proposed 60-unit supportive housing project for men, women and families making the transition from an earlier experience of homelessness to a new situation of stable, affordable apartments.
Here the visible and societal distance between those with and without homes was narrowing rapidly. The hall was crowded. People spoke with great passion and often with anger. Most who spoke were opposed to the proposed housing project.

Many questions were raised about the building site in Terwillegar Towne, the size of the project, availability of support services and the potential risks posed to the local neighbourhood by the new residents.

FEAR, FRUSTRATION
Underlying public conversations like this is a strong sense of fear, frustration and vulnerability. Some in our Catholic parishes regularly cross this societal divide when they give generously of their time and money and encounter those who are hungry, homeless or poor at the Marian Centre or Inner City Pastoral Ministry in inner city Edmonton or in community or church halls in other parts of the archdiocese.

This is often a spiritually and personally transforming experience for those who give of themselves in this way. However, there is a certain intentionality and clear limits and boundaries in these encounters. There are usually clear time expectations, assigned roles and tasks, and experienced mentors. At the end of the encounter, it is possible to leave and go back to our own homes and communities often a safe distance away.

What is most challenging and often creates fear is when this social divide is crossed unexpectedly without pre-set time and space boundaries. Think of encountering a person begging on the sidewalk or a new service agency or social housing complex on our block.

SPIRITUAL GROUNDING
For Christians, one key reference point is our internal spiritual disposition. In our deepest heart of hearts, is our spiritual grounding: one of love, inclusion, hospitality, solidarity and freedom? Jesus in the Gospel stories provides a perfect model for this. Fear and anger can present obstacles for us to be able to respond from the strength of this spiritual foundation.

As we grow in our discipleship journey following Christ ever more closely, we learn to respond more fully from an internal disposition of love. This does not mean we surrender our responsibility to exercise prudence, wisdom and discernment as we face difficult debates on controversial community projects or when we navigate inner city sidewalks. But it does mean that we start from a spiritual grounding of love, solidarity and welcome, especially to those who are vulnerable and on the margins.

rooted-and-grounded

Mark talks Housing

My name is Mark.  I am 13 years old I am in grade eight.  I feel so blessed and excited as our family will take this new chapter of our life. I am so grateful that we are now part of the community that helps many families reach their dreams.  Today is the day we’ve been waiting for.mark-13-habitat

      Having a home is having a strong foundation especially for every child. I describe home as the starting place of love, hope, and dreams. A home is a place where I feel the love of my family, relatives, and friends. This is where I learn how to become a better person every day. This is where I get my energy to get through another day. This is a place of hope where I learn how to get back on my feet, when things are not going well, and having that hope that tomorrow will be better day. This is where my dream of becoming a basketball player someday starts, because I have a place where I can spend watching my favourite sports on TV and do my research on how to enhance my skills in basketball. Having a home is everything to me.  This is where I build myself as a person to become a good citizen today and in the future.
      Moving to a new place means meeting new friends and being in a new community. I just moved to a new school nearby, and at a very short time I have gained new friends already. My family and I are looking forward to know our new neighbours and friends. I am also looking forward to have my very own room for the very first time and this is really exciting for me.

      With all the hard work and passion of all the people who work together to make this possible to us and other families, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. A decent shelter to our family is finally a dream come true. To all the volunteers and donors for your never ending and generous support of Habitat for Humanity – a big and warm thank you! Thank you, Habitat for this wonderful opportunity!

Want to help out?  This year, Habitat for Humanity is building 150 homes across Canada; 75 of these are here in Edmonton.  This year’s Interfaith Habitat Works is from February 23-April 27.  It’s not too late!  Grab a few friends from your faith communities, your workplace or neighbourhood and come work for a day.

Here’s the poster with this year’s details:

habitat-interfaith-most-recent 

 

See Inside: Grand Manor (Excel Society)

Supportive Living Facilities play a crucial role in providing home for people who need the extra help because of age or illness, disability or injury, or even addictions.

Grand Manor is one such facility run by the Excel Society.  They provide home and support for people 25-100 years of age from a variety of needs and backgrounds. The entire facility has 118 individual suites. Three are 1-bedroom apartments, the rest are studio style.

Thirty-two beds are on a secure unit where people are not allowed to leave unless accompanied. Sixteen beds are for PDD (persons with developmental disabilities) – a new program. Edmonton has lots of group homes providing home to PDD tenants, but as people age they need greater support.

Here are the services Grand Manor provides in-house:

  1. 1. On-site support staff: 24-hr LPN care and Health care aide. A Physician is onsite twice per week.  Psychiatrist once per week. Podiatrist once every six weeks. RN, M-F. Supportive living case managers M-F. They have an occupational therapist on-site with a Mental Health specialization who tests a person’s capability, helps them set goals, and perhaps find work).
  2. They have a Harm Reduction Program for people with an uncontrolled habit of alcohol consumption (Managed Alcohol Program). More details below.
  3. They provide Financial counseling to clients who need that assistance; including a program that allows people to live in a cash-free environment, with credit used in the small store on-site.
  4. And of course food! In the older part of the facility, residents from 55 suites use a main dining room. In the newer part of the building, residents meet for lunch on each floor.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How does a person qualify for a supportive living facility like Grand Manor?

Alberta Health Services oversees assessment and placement. People first contact the Continuing Care Access Hotline: 780.496.1300. From there, people are assessed and are connected with facilities that have the proper resources to address their needs

2. How much does room and board cost?

Room and board costs around $1900. Many clients receive funding from AISH or CPP, but others are funded privately through savings or by family support. In the event someone is unable to afford this kind of help, AISH and CPP are able to provide an increase for clients in Supportive Living.

3. How does the Managed Alcohol Program work?

At Grand Manor, staff work with each resident to develop an individual alcohol management plan that takes into consideration how much the resident wants to drink and what the resident can afford to drink. The goal is to determine what is enough to satisfy the resident while still being safe for that person. In some cases, they help the client find a safe level close to what his/her body is accustomed to and then gradually help them taper down. At Grand Manor, alcohol is purchased by staff using funds clients have provided. They then serve the alcohol to people in their rooms in regular doses, perhaps once every hour.

Who is currently in this program? They have people anywhere from 55 to 90 years old. Many of these have severe alcohol addictions and often have mental health issues. Some are men grieving the loss of a spouse who were not doing well on their own, and began to drink more. Others were people living on the streets.

How is a managed alcohol program helpful? Almost all residents that enter the Harm Reduction Program have come with an uncontrolled habit of alcohol consumption. This causes numerous problems such as incontinence, injuries related to falls, alcohol-related dementia, seizures, poor nutrition, and verbal and physical abuse. Through the harm reduction program, Grand Manor has been able to assist the clients to reduce their alcohol intake to a safer consumption that allows them more control over their lives.

A success story: A woman came into Grand Manor from living on the streets. The hospital sent her to Grand Manor to be part of the Managed Alcohol Program. She had diabetes and high blood pressure. Coming into the program, she expressed her view that she doesn’t really enjoy drinking, but that when you are on the street, ‘It’s what you do.’ She began to participate in the recreational programs and make friends. She only drank for a week, and then stopped. Today, she is no longer on any blood pressure meds; is on minimal oral diabetic medication and doesn’t drink at all.

When haven’t people been successful? The program has not worked for people who want to binge drink, and value that more than a roof over their head. Some choose to go back to living on the streets

4. How does financial counseling work at Grand Manor?

Most clients at Grand Manor have a trustee to help them manage their budget. The trustee could be a family member, or their is a staff person who can play that role if need be. In more difficult cases, a person can sign a third-party agreement to directly allocate their income to cover their room and board at Grand Manor.

To learn more about Grand Manor, visit the excel society’s website: http://www.excelsociety.org/care-options/grand-manor

 

 

Homeless Count 2016 brings some good news!

Over two hundred volunteers partnered with agencies and city staff to do Homeless Count 2016.

The task, as always is challenging, but teams of volunteers hit the streets and alleys, shelters, and walked the river valleys to engage with people in need. The count is an important tool for Canada’s cities, as it helps different levels of government see where needs are being met or missed, and how better to respond.

The Homeless Count is never able to capture the whole picture, as it is difficult to measure the hidden homeless, but the information helps inform decisions. This year’s numbers show that some of Edmonton’s hard work is paying off.

2016 Count: 1,752 is a 43% decrease over the previous year.

70% of these are chronically homeless.

Indigenous: 48% (Pop 5%)

Veterans: 70 veterans of military or RCMP

Unsheltered:  22% 374

Emergency Sheltered: 43% 745

Provisionally Accommodated: 36% – 633

Men 74%

Women 25%

LGBTQ 1%

Families – success! 246 housed between January 2015 to March 2016.  We saw a 51% decrease in homeless families from 2014 to 2016.

Youth – 240 counted in 2014; 129 counted in 2016

Here are a few front line stories from volunteers who participated in the count:

“I spoke with a man who had been homeless for 20 years. He is now in subsidized housing and no longer an alcoholic, and he mentioned being helped along the way by Homeward Trust. He spoke about the difficulties of getting off the streets but still having homeless friends, and being around people who still abuse. It was a nice chat, and interesting to hear his story.”

“We were humbled by how honest the participants were …so accommodating and caring. People expressed concern for us. There is a true sense of community and helping among the homeless population of Edmonton.”

“Regardless, it was an eye-opening experience learning the hardships of constantly waiting in line for food and shelter, and not feeling independent.”

“The number of homeless people my partner and I encountered, who I’d never have guessed would be homeless based on appearances, blew me away.”

“I only got through about half a dozen surveys in the time I was at the shelter. This wasn’t because it was difficult or tedious, but because the men I spoke with were just looking to have someone listen as they shared their stories – and their stories ranged so widely, especially given the economic downturn of the past year. It was incredibly humbling just to sit there, going through the survey, yes, but the questions were just a medium and excuse to start conversations about life and experiences lived.”

“Respondents helped me to understand more of who is experiencing homelessness and why. One fellow was working in Ft. Mac and lost his truck with possessions to the fire. He has spent the last year homeless in Edmonton, struggling with his insurance company. UGH!”

“A couple of the folks had just received word that they were going to get an apartment through Housing First and were so excited! Two different respondents had dealt with homelessness in the past and received assistance from Housing First. They expressed major gratitude.”

 

Interfaith Recruiters’ Meeting

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY’S INTERFAITH WORKS PROJECT 2017 IS COMING!  FEB 23 – APRIL 27, 2017

We are mobilizing Edmonton’s faith community to come out and join us on the Habitat build and in Restores. If you are part of a faith community, we invite you to join us! Habitat for Humanity Edmonton and the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative are working together to engage Edmonton’s faith communities.

Our goal is to mobilize 500 volunteers and provide 45 lunches.

The Recruiters’ Meeting will provide information on how to sign up your faith group and promote the Interfaith Works Project.  We are gathering people from across Edmonton to recruit volunteers from their faith community.

Come and join us to find out how you can be part of this!

When: Jan 23 OR Jan 24

Time: 6-7pm

Location: 14135 128 Ave NW

RSVP: Batya@interfaithhousing.ca

interfaith-works-flyer

 

 

Edmonton’s Response in 2016: Hospitality

“Anyone coming down from Ft. Mac need a place to stay?  I have a bed and a pull-out couch at my house.  Call me!”

Facebook posts like this were common in an outpouring of support for wildfire-devastated neighbours from the north.  fleeing-wildfires

The refugee crisis from Syria and other war-torn countries also prompted an opening of borders and an outpouring of care.  What was our first instinct when seeing neighbours in crisis?  Hospitality.  By opening our doors and our communities, we gave rest to people fleeing war and wildfires.  It brought people hope, and a place to heal.

In 2017, what will prompt us to open our doors and our hearts?  Will it be a crisis somewhere across the world?  Or will it be a need close to home that claims our attention?  Be it the struggle of a young family looking for a safe and affordable home, a senior on a long waiting list, or just someone trying to find their way alone in a new place, CRIHI invites you to work with us in making 2017 a year where Edmonton’s compassion and hospitality again shine fiercely for those who need hope and home so desperately.

Beyond the Big White House

Jacob and Aafje Prins helped more than 800 Dutch newcomers settle in Canada and the hospitality of their big white Beverly house with lilac hedges became famous on both sides of the Atlantic.

They were immigrants themselves who brought their eight children to Edmonton in 1927. Forever grateful to their new country, they worked tirelessly to pay it forward.

Delighted at the prosperity of their new life in Canada, Jacob Prins began encouraging other Dutch to emigrate and, when three families arrived from the Netherlands in 1936, he found farms for them to live and work near Lacombe. When more families followed, he found it necessary to scout other locations and this turned out to be the start of a remarkable career.

Prins often contacted the Canadian National Railway for information on available land parcels and, in the winter of 1937, the railway sent him to Holland to promote emigration to Western Canada, reports a history compiled by Tina Van Ameyde. After World War II, the Christian Reformed Church’s Synodical Committee appointed him as fieldman for Central British Columbia.

The railway even provided Prins with a pass to travel freely in the west and, on one of those trips searching for locations suitable for Dutch farmers, he discovered the Bulkley Valley. It was a valley ideally situated on the railway from Edmonton to Prince Rupert, where settlers would be assured of work in the lumber industry during winter months. Many Dutch families subsequently settled in the communities of Smithers, Terrace, Houston and Telkwa, B.C.

img_0516Aafje died in 1949 and her daughter-in-law Ann Prins stepped in to help with the workload, getting up before daybreak to prepare a meal for hungry travellers on their way to British Columbia. Jacob received no remuneration and, for a long while, paid expenses out of his own pocket.

Until 1960, when at the age of 74 he had to resign on doctor’s orders, Prins travelled once a month to B.C. to check up on “his” people. Through his efforts, more than 800 Dutch families were welcomed to Canada and many settled in the Beverly area.

Known as “dad” to the hundreds he helped, Jacob died at home on April 12, 1963, while reading a book in Aafje’s favourite corner. The funeral service filled First Christian Reformed Church to overflowing as people travelled from all over Alberta and B.C. to pay final respects to a man who lived his life in the service of others.

See the full article at: http://citymuseumedmonton.ca/2015/11/17/the-prins/

 

Riverbend & Terwillegar Talk Housing

On Saturday, October 29 from 1-4pm, CRIHI invited eight neighbourhoods in Riverbend & Terwillegar to a workshop and conversation called ‘Homes4ourNeighbours’ at Riverbend United Church.

There were about 25 people in attendance, including 15 interested neighbours. This event provided good information on affordable housing, shared frontline stories and experiences, and then gave neighbours a safe place to share their worries, concerns and ideas on how neighbours can respond to new proposals and new neighbours.

riverbend-united-churchAlthough this event had a modest turnout, there was a good cross-section of people and opinions engaged, including representatives from two community leagues (the Ridge and Riverbend), members of the Terwillegar Homeowner Association, Brander Gardens ROCKS, faith leaders, and neighbours at large. It was also a respectful conversation, taking place under rules that stated: Everyone has wisdom. We need to hear everyone’s wisdom for the best result. There are no wrong answers. And everyone will both hear and be heard.

In our December issue of the Neighbourly, and in this post CRIHI summarizes three (out of seven total) key points of conversation and what the group heard from each other. The full report is available below and includes summaries of the presentations and several additional points of conversation.  CRIHI thanks our hosts at Riverbend United Church (pictured) for their provision of space and refreshments! 

Full Report:  report-on-affordable-housing-workshop-october-29-2016-in-riverbendterwillegar

Here are three points discussed by the group:

NUMBER ONE: We need quality consultation!

group-conversationsSeveral participants in the group shared their frustration at poorly done consultation. If the developer doesn’t have a good process for engaging the community, and is unable to address reasonable concerns, that will trigger much higher levels of fear, worry and concern in the local community.

The group highlighted two positive examples of consultation done well: The Right at Home Society for its planned development of the Westmount Presbyterian Church site development in North Glenora. They spent one year in dialogue with the existing local community. It was observed that it takes a strong commitment to dialogue as communities do not naturally want to be inclusive of new/different neighbours. The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta was also highlighted as a positive example in the development of a Permanent Supportive Housing project in the Bonnie Doon area.

A healthy conversation with a diverse group of voices was identified as necessary at both planning tables and in consultations. They also advise Developers to give neighbours some choices, and to take their input into account when fine-tuning a project.

NUMBER TWO: This is What a Healthy Neighbourhood Response looks like:

Assuming the development/property management agency has engaged properly with the existing community, such a response should be:

  1. Inclusive of many perspectives, recognizing that not all are in agreement (accepting that some views may be supportive, others that are opposing, and still others that are questioning)
  2. Willing to be part of the process and to dialogue – meaning there is opportunity for all to be listened to and to be heard – to give and take. Requires respect as not everything may go ‘our way,’ but it doesn’t mean we haven’t heard or been heard.
  3. Welcoming of new neighbours, even if a process or development does not unfold as it should. Positive example: The existing community in the Haddow neighbourhood has come to a broad agreement they will accept and welcome the future new residents of the Haddow First Place development, even though the poor consultation process sparked strong resistance to the project.
  4. Connected to a neighbourhood’s story – where the look and feel of a project fits the surroundingneighbourhood so that community culture is maintained and enhanced and positive outcomes and opportunities are perceived and known.” Related idea:   A neighbourhood could benefit from the development of a “charter” of what is community (a community charter of neighborliness).”
  5. Aware of the need across the city, and our community’s responsibility to help in meeting that need. Ie. “Our responsibilities include that with the inner-city expanding, we need to promote Affordable Housing in all areas of the city” (From a Terwillegar resident)

NUMBER THREE: The Need to be Good Neighbours

“Our responsibilities should be to welcome and include our new neighbours, be open-minded without prejudice – we should assume they are good people – there are a lot of ways to get to know folks”bgrocks-drum-lesson

“We need to find ways to get to know our neighbours. An offer of free topsoil has enabled my family to get to know many neighbours whom we had never met.”

“As in the “Welcome Home (Program),” we need to welcome new neighbours to our neighbourhoods.”

“The success of “Brander Gardens Rocks” results from its being based on a reciprocal relationship between the residents of that Community Housing project and the existing residents of the surrounding community. Over the years, attitudes have changed from “us and them” to just “us” and from “we can do it for them” to “we can do it with them.” “Just because a person has a lower income doesn’t mean they don’t aspire to a better life. Many of these people want to give back.”

Existing neighbours can organize community dinners and block parties to welcome newcomers.

 

 

The Good Neighbour

What is a good neighbour? These days, we tend to think of a good neighbour as someone who keeps their yard trim and tidy, their walks cleared, the noise down after ten, and their beer bottles on their side of the fence (not mine!). But is this really what a good neighbour looks like?

neighbourq

People of Faith most always aspire to some form of good neighbour code. Love of God and neighbour are marks of righteousness. How does that love show itself? We often say it involves: hospitality, generosity, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice, underscored by a commitment to be there for each other.

In my neighbourhood, I am pleased to know many good neighbours. Certainly, it is not all smooth sailing as relationships never are. But on my street, I am happy to know that if my family or I have a crisis, we have at least five different households who would be there for us in a heartbeat. Taking the kids on short notice; bringing food; grieving with us; saying prayers for us; coming to visit us in the hospital. And of course all the little things: borrowing their lawn-mower, or a few eggs. I’ve even had one of my eighty-year-old neighbours bring his snowblower and clean my sidewalk after a heavy snowfall!

Opening my door to my neighbour continues to be a source of incredible treasure. Along the way, my wife and I have had the opportunity to share life with single parents caring for their kids; seniors grappling with the demands of age; with families for whom money is always an issue, and who need help occasionally in getting to appointments or talking to their social worker; and people grieving significant loss or battling mental illness. Our door is open to our neighbours, and in return, their door is open to us. When we are there for them, they are there for us!

In the last few years, I was privileged to be part of one very powerful neighbour story. A family with small kids was going to lose their home only two weeks before one family member was to undergo treatments for a serious cancer diagnosis. In response to this need, our neighbours and my church community together raised around $3000 to get them caught up on their rent, and helped negotiate a renewed lease for another year. It gave them time and space to heal!neighbour6

Recently, several local households celebrated thanksgiving together as many didn’t have family close by. We ate turkey, stuffing, Asian noodle dishes and springrolls, Kenyan flatbread, trifle…yum!   So this neighbouring thing… Give it a go!

By Mike Van Boom, from Edmonton’s McCauley Neighbourhood

 

Religious and spiritual communities working to end homelessness in Edmonton and area

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