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Edmonton : A Place to Call Home

In 2007 the citizens of Edmonton were shocked to learn that more than 3000 of their sisters and brothers were homeless. This reality was brought home to us when “Tent City” was established in the downtown core.

In 2008 our mayor and council, in collaboration with the business community, social services agencies and the Interfaith community launched a bold initiative entitled, “The City of Edmonton Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness: A Place to Call Home”. Sr. Mary Clare and her colleagues in the Parish Relations program felt compelled to become actively engaged in addressing this challenge along with a variety of Christian denominations as well as members of the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and Zoroastrian communities.

Our Archbishop, Richard Smith, provided excellent leadership by calling us together in June 2009 to establish the direction that the Interfaith group would embrace. We realized that the reality of homelessness could be approached from many different angles and so a Congregational Housing Action Guide was developed to provide interested faith groups with 11 options, for example, education, advocacy, being part of a Habitat for Humanity Build, et cetera.

John Acheson, ("charism friend") organizer of the Homeless Memorial, Claire Rolheiser (member of the Welcome Home team), Paula Cornell (member of the Welcome Home team), Mary Clare (manager of the program) and Pat Acheson ("charism friend") In the Centre the memorial for our homeless sisters and brothers, 45 of whom died in 2012 because of violence, drugs, ill health and the bitter cold.

Our Aboriginal sisters and brothers, although they form only 4% of the total population, actually account for 47% of the homeless population. Why is this significant? It is part of their tradition to share everything they have, and it does not feel right to them to have their own little place when others do not, so their space becomes home to whomever needs accommodation. Often this becomes problematic: the landlord has agreed to rent to this person or this family; instead s/he discovers 10-12 people in the unit, some of whom are dealing with addictions and mental health issues. Frequently things get out of hand, neighbours complain, the police are called, and the person once again has nowhere to call home.

Our Parish Relations team opted for supporting the newly housed to deal with the loneliness and social isolation that is frequently experienced by those who have made the river valley their home or have couch-surfed, slept over a grate in the bitterness of winter or bounced from shelter to shelter. Our involvement with homeless individuals has helped us to understand that often their only “friends” have been drinking buddies or those with whom they shoot-up on heroine. It is a proven fact that 57% of the newly housed have serious mental health issues and thus do not have the social skills to be able to move into a new place and start building relationships with their new neighbours.

As a direct response to the challenges represented by loneliness and social isolation the Welcome Home Program was developed. The newly housed are supported by “volunteers from the Interfaith community", who share the values of respect for human dignity, solidarity with those who are poor and vulnerable, and who embrace the importance of creating inclusive and welcoming communities. The volunteers connect with individuals and families transitioning from homelessness to a home in a variety of ways: conversation over coffee, going for a walk, participating in leisure or sporting activities, familiarizing participants with resources in their community, and expanding the participants’ network of social contacts.