Upcoming Regional Workshops

Affordable Housing is a charged topic for many people; especially if there is talk of building something nearby.  It prompts all kinds of questions and concerns, and even fear in us.  This is especially true if we have little or no direct experience or knowledge of what this might mean.  So what does it mean?

Here’s the crux of it:  People need homes.  And sometimes homes are difficult to afford.  Approximately one in four Edmontonians have trouble affording housing, meaning they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent; with more than 40,000 households paying more than 50%.

There are many different ways to help meet the need for Affordable Housing, but the reality is that there is no one solution that addresses every situation. Responding to the needs of our neighbours involves a whole range of strategies, and supports.  While there are no specific proposals for developments that include Affordable Housing units in these areas, in the next few years and subject to approved government subsidy funding, several local neighbourhoods will be asked to open their communities to new neighbours.  These projects will take different forms, but in every case a neighbourhood will have to choose how they will respond.

To help neighbourhoods consider how they can respond, CRIHI has two workshops coming up entitled Homes 4 our Neighbours. 

Saturday, October 29 1-4pm @ Riverbend United Church

Neighbourhoods invited:  Rhatigan Ridge, Falconer Heights,  Carter Crest,  Bulyea Heights, Terwillegar Town, Greenfield, Henderson Estates, and Haddow.

Saturday, Nov. 5 1-4pm @ Bethel Community Church

Neighbourhoods invited: Kernohan, Belmont, Sifton Park, Overlanders, Canon Ridge, Bannerman, Hairsine, Kirkness

If these neighbourhoods are home for you or your faith community, please help spread the word. Invite a neighbour, and come join the conversation!   Share your perspective on how communities can respond to new projects and new neighbours finding home next door.

RSVP to Mike@interfaithhousing.ca



Homeless Count 2016

Homeless count 2016 is on October 19-20. Volunteer this year, and you will see firsthand that homelessness happens to all kinds of people: families, singles, young people and seniors.

How many of us have been there? Couch surfing at family or friend’s; spending a night at the shelter, or being forced to spend a night in the car. Come help gather information in this year’s homeless count so that those providing help better know where and how to respond.

Volunteers will act as enumerators, recording responses to a short survey designed to gather basic demographic information from people they encounter over the course of their shift. Teams of volunteers fan out across the city to conduct the survey on predetermined routes, including areas close to drop-in centres, libraries, temporary employment agencies, bottle depots, and other places. Your volunteer contributions are part of a much larger community effort during the Homeless Count. Many service providers, outreach teams, public agencies, and community partners are also supporting this valuable work

Only volunteers over the age of 18 will be accepted for enumerating positions. There may be limited positions available for assistance with the orientation training and at base sites for individuals age 16 or 17. To volunteer, visit http://www.homelesscount.ca


Youth Contest Deadline extended!

Our partner, the Intercultural Dialogue Institute here in Edmonton is holding it’s 1st Annual Art, Essay & Short Movie Contest

This contest is for secondary school students affiliated with the school boards. This year’s theme is “Art of Living Together” and submissions will be accepted in three categories: art, essay and short video. Be sure to pass this along to a young person or youth group near you!  Find more information at: http://artessay.ca/edmonton/


They are Witches!

The following story of compassion and hospitality was shared with CRIHI by Christina Mhina, from All Saint’s Anglican Parish in Edmonton. 

My grandfather, the late Canon Samuel Stephen Mwinyipembe was a special influence in my life. He was a loving, caring and compassionate person.

I remember when I was a child, about nine years old, there were rumors that neighborhood witchcraft was a problem in the village that I was born and raised.

It was believed that this was a problem in neighboring villages too. These were village communities where the inhabitants largely rely on each other. Accusations of witchcraft were usually due to personal disputes, jealousy, and conflicts between neighbors or family over land or inheritance. In many cases those who were accused of practicing witchcraft were shunned away from their families, and in some cases they were murdered.

My grandfather, as a faith leader felt that he had a moral obligation to support those in need, therefore he invited the suspected witches to come and stay at our home until the tensions in their families were resolved. Our family structure was a big extended clan, so I and my siblings thought we were related to everyone that lived in our house. Now there were three old women, who lived at our home who were quite isolated and who did not take part in any household chores (as they were not allowed to do chores such cooking, cleaning, fetching water for the fear that they might try to poison the family.) Because they had lots of time sitting around, my siblings and I spent a great deal of time interacting, listening to the stories they shared and playing with these old women.

Then one day, at night while everyone else was sleeping, I was awakened by voices of people talking. As I listened carefully I realized the voices of my grandfather and my grandmother arguing. In their argument I heard my grandmother furiously saying “you have to send them away, they are witches, and they will bewitch our grandchildren”. My grandfather responded calmly and with confidence, “there is no certainty that these women are witches, but we know for sure that these are human beings in need. They need our support. They will stay with us. I assure you, our grandchildren will be safe.”

That night, I could not get back to sleep, I kept thinking of the three isolated old women that played with us, and that all this time they had been “witches!” The following day I interacted with them being cautious, but within a few days’ time, I forgot about my grandparents’ arguments. We continued to live with the accused ‘witches’ who seemed to be friendly and harmless to me and my family members.

Since that time I always remember my grandfather’s concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others which has influenced me in my interactions with others. I try to pass on what I have learned from my grandfather down to my children and those I interact with.



A Habitat Story: the Change of Heart

At the recent launch of this summer’s Interfaith-Habitat works on July 7, Alfred Nicolai, CEO of Habitat Edmonton told us a story about what moved a change in the heart of a neighbor.

A few years ago, Habitat for Humanity was building thirty units of housing in the Beacon Heights community. A large piece of grass that had always been green space was now to be made into homes. But as is often the case, this change sparked resistance and pushback from neighbours. A few neighbours got together to say, ‘Let’s stop this!’ They got out their clipboards and went door to door to get support, and stood up in opposition to the project.

The conversation covered the usual ground: concerns over parking and an increase in traffic, how close the houses would be built together. And as the city reports came in response, clarifying that these issues would not be problematic, this group continued to stand strong against the change.

One day, one of the lead women in opposition to the Habitat project happened to hear her son talking with a friend. His explanation of why they were opposing the project was as follows:

‘We don’t want those people living here.’

As her son said those words, this mother was deeply convicted. What was she teaching her children? Was this her inner voice being spoken out loud from the mouth of her son?  She found she had fallen into a horrible trap. How could she not want hard-working families as neighbours who were working towards a better future for their children? It took her son’s voice for her to realize that there was bigotry hidden inside the other concerns around structure, traffic, parking etc. That it didn’t matter what god they worshiped or the colour of their skin. Those people were very much like us!

Following that, she turned 180 degrees. She phoned Habitat for Humanity and apologized for her opposition. She then became a proponent of the project. Today, she continues to support Habitat and volunteer, helping families build a better future for their children.

What about those people who have found their home in the housing development? Anderson gardens people are leaders in the Beacon Heights community league and the local school. And their kids have lots of sleepovers!

Habitat group anderson gardens


Finding Home at Ottewell Manor

“…these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”

Kim Ruzycki remembers her first visit to Ottewell Manor. She recalls touring the building, walking through the dining room and seeing all the rooms in the building that she and her neighbours would be living in. She had spent the previous year living at Rosary Hall and many of her neighbours there were also making the switch to Ottewell Manor, so she wasn’t nervous about moving. In fact, as she settled into her new home, she was surprised by what her living conditions were like.Ottewell Manor

“We can make all of our own decisions and do things for ourselves,” Ruzycki says. “But there is a strong support system here.”

Ruzycki is one of 38 residents currently living in Ottewell Manor. And like all the residents at Ottewell Manor, she’s living with conditions that would make living completely independently almost impossible. Residents at Ottewell Manor live with a range of different conditions from depression and anxiety to bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ottewell Manor was built in 1962 and was a seniors lodge for many years. In 2010, negotiations between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Greater Edmonton Foundation Seniors Housing (GEF Seniors Housing) began with the intention of dedicating Ottewell Manor strictly for seniors struggling with mental health conditions. In May of 2012, Ottewell Manor’s first new residents started moving in.

“None of us had any background in mental health before Ottewell Manor opened,” explains Shelley Fox, Assistant Manager with GEF Seniors Housing who spends the majority of her time overseeing the operations of Ottewell Manor. “We received some training from AHS before we opened, but we also set some clear guidelines in our agreement as to where the mental health support would be coming from.”

GEF Seniors Housing’s partnership with AHS focuses on the operations and support for its residents. Therapists, case workers, and even some homecare providers work directly with GEF Seniors Housing to ensure that everyone living in Ottewell Manor is receiving the mental health support that they need.

“AHS are the experts in mental health, we know and respect that and we wouldn’t want to try and replace that,” says Lisa Bereziuk, Manager of the larger Ottewell portfolio of buildings for GEF Seniors Housing. “What we as supportive living are doing is ensuring that the other side of that quality of life equation is being met. We’re making sure that the food we serve is of the best quality, the recreation options are things our residents are interested in, that the building is clean and well taken care of, and that the day to day of living here is the best it can possibly be.”

Like all GEF Seniors Housing supportive living sites, Ottewell Manor features a full commercial kitchen with a Red Seal chef on staff, a designated recreation coordinator setting up programs for the residents, and the freedom for the residents to choose what they want to take part in.

Both Fox and Bereziuk attribute a large part of Ottewell Manor’s success to the open communication they continue to have with their partners in AHS. With each organizations’ roles so clearly defined, there’s very rarely any disconnect between them, and that helps keep the operations in Ottewell Manor running smoothly and ensures that all the residents have a great quality of life.

“Hospital visits are considerably down for our residents, and most of the time you can’t even tell our residents are living with any sort of condition,” says Fox. “The work being done here is helping a lot with breaking the current stigma around mental health. Even within GEF Seniors Housing, new staff will be hired and not realize what Ottewell Manor does and they’ll be visibly uncomfortable about it until they actually visit Ottewell Manor and see how wrong their misconceptions were. That these are just normal people who want what anyone else would want: a good quality of life.”

What’s most important for Fox and Bereziuk every day is that the residents are happy with where they live. And they get to see their efforts help people with everything from just getting comfortable with where they’re living to helping with larger issues such as hoarding. The residents often show their appreciation for what the staff with GEF Seniors Housing does for them; some a little more vibrantly than others.

“There was one resident who became especially attached to the Ottewell portfolio’s previous manager Susan Scott and during our opening this resident actually hugged [Scott] so hard that she needed to see a chiropractor afterward,” says Bereziuk with a laugh. “But I think that resident expressed what a lot of the other residents were feeling that day and still continue to feel. And when we see our residents express that level of happiness, we know we’re doing a good job at giving them a good quality of life.”

Article and accompanying photo provided compliments of GEF Senior’s Housing.


Dead Weight …People?

I recently had a conversation with René Lamothe…

René is a man of Cree descent who serves as a Spiritual Advisor at Ambrose Place in Edmonton.  Rene made a very interesting observation about how we have come to think about or weigh each other as people.  He noted that when medicines are made or plants are studied, biologists and chemists will often focus on a plant’s “active ingredients.” Drawing out the things that enable life and purpose in a plant, and discarding the rest.  Rene suggested that we tended to do the same things when we look at each other as human beings.  We tend to celebrate and venerate those among us who we see as active and vital players in our functioning as a society. 

As we reflected on the implications of that, we came to realize that this is true of how we can think of each other even at a neighbourhood level.  A community might see a Senior’s complex in their neighbourhood as a liability, and not an asset.  Why?  Because a community thrives with strong families and individuals who can volunteer and serve actively in their community; running their soccer program and organizing neighbourhood events.   What runs behind this thinking?  The idea that seniors are no longer active ingredients in a community’s makeup.  But is that right?

Or how about people in poverty or people with mental illnesses or addictions?  Here too, we might paint brush with some of the same sentiment, believing that a neighbourhood with many people in poverty has few active ingredients to make the community tick.  In our broad judgment, we believe people with addictions or mental illnesses do not tend to be contributing members to society, and we are reluctant to see them as such.   Rather, we will sometimes discuss them as burdens that we have a responsibility to care for.   And while it may be true that people in crisis are often able to give very little, many of them are happy to give from what little they have to make their community stronger. 

Maybe our desire to celebrate only the strongest members of the community is unhealthy.  After all, in the human body every part plays a role.  The mind and the heart do play pretty critical roles with lots of heavy lifting, but the smaller pieces are also of great significance.   In the Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul uses exactly that analogy in his letter to the Ephesians to talk about how people should see each other.  What should our response be towards those in our midst who are suffering, in crisis, or gradually losing ability?

If I smash the tip of my finger with a hammer, what is my instant response?  I take notice.  I care for it.  I might try to gently massage it to help get circulation back so it is able to be restored.  It may be fairly tender for a while and require some time and energy, but my body’s natural response deems it worth the sacrifice.  Our bodies are not quick to write off any part as dead weight, instead their primary practice is to nurse an injured part back to health. 

Can we cling to the same outlook for each other?  People in poverty struggle against many roadblocks that keep them from thriving.  Could those of us with strength to do so help clear some of those out of the way?  People with fixed incomes are having trouble affording housing in an expensive market like Edmonton.  Can we help build creative and healthy solutions that will enable them to live in safety and dignity?  People carrying the burdens of trauma and mental illness too often find themselves doing so on the street, in a state of constant crisis.  Can we provide safe and supportive places for them to grieve and to heal?  People of all backgrounds experience the life-draining effects of loneliness and isolation.  Can we work together to enfold each other in safe and warm community; a community that gives life to all of us?

We do not easily give up on our bodies when they are injured; instead we fight for the possibility of healing and restoration.    Let’s take that fight for what is possible to the work of restoring, loving and healing each other.

by Mike Van Boom,  June 1, 2016

Affordable Housing Edmonton

In recent months, the City of Edmonton launched an information campaign to help people understand what affordable housing is, why it is so needed here in Edmonton, and why we all benefit from living in diverse neighbourhoods.


Access the campaign by visiting their website:  http://www.affordablehousingedmonton.ca


The Westmount Presbyterian Story

Recognizing the need for affordable housing options, especially for large families, Westmount Presbyterian partnered to redevelop their land and church facility to make room for 16 units of affordable housing in a townhouse setting.


Twice over the past five years, 25 faith community leaders have come together through the Capital Region Housing Initiative to sign a public statement expressing their support for Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.

In this statement, the faith leaders committed their faith communities “to find new and creative ways . . . to address the issues of homelessness and affordable housing in our communities.” The churches and faith communities signing this statement have found different ways to put the words of this public commitment into action over the past five years.

However, one local Edmonton congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, a signer of the Edmonton interfaith statement, has come up with an especially creative approach.

Westmount Presbyterian Church, in the North Glenora neighbourhood in Edmonton, found itself in a situation similar to that of many churches today. Their congregation was shrinking in size, their 60-year-old church building was in need of costly repairs, and their high energy bills were becoming an increasing financial burden.

The members of the congregation started a process to plan for the future. The congregation had a history of supporting refugee families and hoped that this support could be continued and even expanded in the future.


The congregation identified and recruited community partners: Peter Amerongen from Habitat Studios, a local innovative company pioneering the construction of zero-energy homes, Intermet Housing Society, an experienced non-profit housing provider, and the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.

Together, they came up with a plan. The church would provide the land on a long-term lease at nominal cost for a 16-unit townhouse development providing affordable housing for large immigrant families.

The other organizational partners would bring expertise in innovative building design and construction, non-profit housing management and support services for families of newly-arrived immigrants.

This would be a sustainable “net zero” project, with geothermal and solar energy, so that year by year the renewable energy produced would be equal to the total energy consumed.


The present church would be demolished and replaced by a smaller energy-efficient church building, with space for a day care, and community space for tenant support and other community activities.

The project sponsors organized a consultation process with the local community league and residents and incorporated their concerns and suggestions into the design and development of this project with the result that the local community became supporters.

One local neighbourhood benefit of this project is that the school across the street threatened with closure because of low student enrollments will benefit from the influx of school-age children.

When the project sponsors went to City Hall in October for rezoning and project approval, city council approved the proposal unanimously. Construction is slated to start in the next few months.

Often when older church lands and buildings can no longer be maintained and supported by a congregation, they are sold with the financial proceeds used to support continuing church works.

Westmount Presbyterian shows another approach of being creative and faithful stewards of church physical and human resources, that of supporting both the long-term future of the Church membership and the good of those in the wider community in urgent need of affordable housing and support services.


Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), says that as we draw near to those experiencing new forms of poverty and vulnerability, “we are called to recognize the suffering Christ” in our midst.

Thinking especially of the situations of migrants and refugees, he encourages all to be open and welcoming to newcomers in their communities: “How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development” (n. 210). Might he have been thinking of a project like this?


The Westmount Presbyterian Site Redevelopment is an impressive example of what is possible with imaginative long-term visioning, creative partnerships, innovative models of stewardship and a shared concern for social justice and the environment.

One hopes this project can stir the creativity and imagination of other congregations and churches facing difficult decisions about the future of church lands and buildings to “think outside the box.”

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)

As published by the Western Catholic Reporter on February 8, 2016

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

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