This story was written by one of Bissell Centre’s Homeless to Homes participants. *Name has been changed to protect the participant’s privacy.
My name is Jennifer*. I became homeless about four years ago. Prior to becoming homeless, I was in an abusive relationship with a common law partner for approximately 10 years. The moment that I made the decision to leave this relationship was the moment I became homeless. I knew that’s what I was choosing, but the experience that I had in this relationship was so bad that I felt like I had no alternatives.
Being homeless is pretty rough. There were many moments when I was homeless that I felt scared and angry. I found that the amount of alcohol I drank increased when I was homeless, and I spent time picking bottles to make enough money to purchase more liquor. I spent most nights at inner city shelters, and at times, when I had no other options I even stayed outside. Read More…
Recently, I spoke at the City’s Executive Council meeting in favor of a moratorium of non-market housing in a number of inner city neighborhoods. I did so with some qualifiers which I will mention later, but I want our funders, donors, community members, area residents, and my colleagues from other inner city agencies to understand Bissell Centre’s opinions around this important issue.
The neighborhoods that the proposed moratorium includes are: McCauley, Central McDougall, Queen Mary Park, Alberta Avenue, Eastwood, and Boyle Street. All of these neighborhoods are identified in the proposal as “high stress” neighborhoods because they contain a much higher incidence of non-market housing than do other city neighborhoods. They also are areas of town with high incidence of low income and homelessness and a corresponding higher incidence of human service organizations that address poverty, homelessness, addictions, mental illness, and so forth.
At Bissell Centre, we understand that many community residents of the aforementioned neighborhoods not only have concerns about the degree of non-market housing in their area, but also concerns about the impacts of human service agencies like Bissell Centre and others on the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
The proposed moratorium only addresses non-market housing, which is part of the problem. Often we tend to “singularize” issues and then attempt to address them. Also, it is common for us to aggregate various elements of an issue into a common identifier. In this case, non-market housing is a term that includes a wide range of housing:
- affordable, independent housing for families and single people,
- seniors housing in its various forms, and
- supportive housing.
While the six identified neighborhoods together are home to 20% of non-market housing in the city, it is also true the neighborhoods have an inordinate share of supportive housing – approximately 60% of what exists in the city. It is reasonable to suggest that, at some point, it’s time to rethink our historic practice of locating so much supportive housing in one area of town.
At Bissell Centre we believe that time is now. We will support the proposed moratorium if it goes forward without amendment, but our preference is that it goes forward with some changes. We do not believe affordable housing or seniors housing are posing the same challenges or issues to the neighborhoods as are the wide range of supportive housing facilities. That’s not to suggest better collaboration between housing providers and community members concerning these types of housing is not worth exploring, but I am hoping a moratorium does not need to be invoked in these cases.
As well the proposal is to put in place a 10 year moratorium in McCauley and Central McDougall, with five year moratoriums proposed for the other four neighborhoods. Our position is that 10 years is too long a time for the City of Edmonton to not financially support any non-market housing in McCauley and Central McDougall.
We believe this even more strongly if the six communities, Edmonton’s administration, and area human service and housing organizations work together to address the challenges facing these neighborhoods from an overall community development approach. Consultations led by human service or housing agencies are not enough, and I suggest are not really community development consultations. Most of the time, consultations are designed by groups that are trying to convince the community that what they are proposing is good for community. I am not suggesting such consultations are wrong or somehow deceitful, but it is time for larger scale collaboration around community aspirations and needs than any one organization or even small group of organizations can muster on their own.
For purposes of transparency I should mention that I am a recent resident of McCauley. While it is hard to separate my residency from my position at Bissell, I am not a resident in favor of the moratorium; however, I believe there are many residents who think otherwise. As a leader of one of the major human service agencies in the area, I feel obligated to support them.
Such support does not mean we agree with all the positions voiced by community members. That said, I can see how the high incidence of supportive housing for the mentally-ill and those with addictions are a concern even as I declare our firm belief that people with such challenges deserve help and a decent place to live.
I can also understand concerns neighborhood residents have about organizations like Bissell Centre that attract large groups of people to their doors and often frequent the area around the agencies during the day. Such numbers lined up at our door or at the doors of other similar groups do impact our neighbors. It is also true that the numbers of people who are poor, homeless, and troubled by mental illness or addictions are a community-wide problem or challenge. Neither the organizations that serve them nor the residents surrounding our facilities own the problems alone.
We know thousands of Edmontonians, as well as many businesses and funders outside the inner city borders, support Bissell Centre’s work and the efforts of the many other organizations that work so hard to help the disadvantaged. I also believe that the majority of community members and organizations throughout Edmonton do not think that a much smaller group of neighborhoods should carry a disproportionate amount of responsibility for the location of supportive housing and helping institutions.
So, Bissell Centre’s support of the moratorium, hopefully with some changes, is just part of our belief that there are larger issues and challenges to address. The moratorium by itself won’t solve anything. Working together in new ways just might.
It is worth noting that shelters are not included in the definition of non-market housing. It makes sense that they are not, but from the community’s point of view there is also a very high incidence of shelters in the area, some of which may be pressured to relocate due to redevelopment. Where will they go? How will that be decided? What criteria should be used to establish what shelters need around them to best help those who use their services? And what must the shelters, along with groups like Bissell Centre, do to help ensure not only the safety and well-being of our clients but the safety and well-being of our neighbors?
I certainly don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do believe small pockets of organizations or small pockets of residents will not resolve them either unless we work together, and in the process of doing so, engage more residents as well as our own clients in building acceptable solutions.
I won’t pretend it was easy to voice our opinion at Executive Council. I heard colleagues I trust and respect speak against the moratorium and their opinions and positions were well articulated and also made sense. None suggested that not having a moratorium would magically fix things, and there were calls for actions that were not being addressed in the moratorium proposal, such as incentivising market housing development that could be accessed by low income people. Our support of the moratorium does not mean those ideas are not worth exploring. Quite the contrary.
As well, when it comes to an issue as complex as this one, it is not so much about one side being right and the other wrong. Few things in life are that black and white. But there are times a community requires a catalyst for change. A five year moratorium in the six neighborhoods with respect to supportive housing could serve as such a catalyst.
My sense is that the City of Edmonton will not approve any moratorium. We understand that position, and have no interest in polemic exchanges about any decision made. It’s impossible for civic leaders to appease everyone. But we hope no matter what happens, the discussion and debate, and more so the authentic interest that all involved have in strengthening the community and its neighborhoods, especially the six in question, will motivate new and innovative efforts of working together with area residents as well as with the larger community.
Mark Holmgren, CEO
Kayla, a mother of five, came to Bissell Centre at the end of 2011 while trying to acquire housing through our Homeless to Homes (H2H) program. Kayla had been going through very difficult times as she had lost a child three months prior; she had been physically assaulted which resulted in her hospitalization and two children being apprehended by Children Services.
With the help of Bissell Centre, Kayla was able to apply for Supports for Independence (SFI) benefits and access our Inner City Victim Services program. We are happy to report that Kayla and her children were housed in March and are doing quite well.
Click here if you’d like to help more people access our multiple services.
Bissell Centre’s long-term strategy is its vision, which is to eliminate poverty in our community. For many, such a vision might be brushed off as “pie in the sky” ambition or perhaps as an expression of hope by caring, yet unrealistic, people. Will poverty ever become eradicated from our community? Likely not, but what is the alternative vision then?
Shall we just talk about decreasing the incidence of poverty, set goals to lower the number of people living in poverty by 10%, 20% or some other “doable” but arbitrary number? Would we celebrate success knowing such goals, in effect, suggest we are concerned with a minority of those who are poor? Would we really be satisfied if our efforts only helped one in ten?
Bissell Centre’s decision to adopt this vision in 2011 is about a call to action for our organization to lead and act in ways that engage governments, businesses, labor, funders, associations, other non-profits, and individuals from all walks of life to come together to create and sustain the range and depth of change required to help people avoid or rise up out of poverty.
Our vision is also a call to change our own organization, where required, to ensure everything we do is vision-focused, whether in the direct delivery of our various programs, the partnerships we undertake across sectors, our relationships with funders and donors, or how we behave in community.
Our vision is a calling to focus our attention not only on traditional human service programs but also on actions that promote social justice, advocate for basic human rights, and enlist others to join together to build a stronger, more connected community. A community that is economically and socially viable for all citizens; a community that takes responsibility for each hungry child, each homeless person, each victim of abuse and violence; a community that is not willing to accept poverty and homelessness as tolerable or defensible.
Bissell Centre is not alone in this vision. Our intent is aligned with the social justice emphasis of our United Church founders (not to mention the faith community in general), with governments’ plans and actions to eliminate homelessness, with the changing emphasis of funders like United Way, with the corporate social responsibility strategies of businesses, and with the hundreds of donors who look to us for leadership in making life better for the poor and disenfranchised. We see other non-profit organizations sharing in this vision, too, many of whom we already partner with, and even more that we need to reach out to and explore new and better ways of working together.
There will be no chance of achieving our vision and little chance of making significant progress if our community continues to work in disparate and fragmented ways. Our mission stresses “working with others.”
We will see more failures than successes if our strategies attempt to lay blame and ostracize others for the problems in our communities. The case to change a social policy, a program or service, or how an organization is structured or funded does not need to be discussed or enacted within a context of culpability for what’s not working, but rather should be addressed around an alignment of common intent and goodwill.
THE CALL TO ACTION
At Bissell Centre, we believe in the power of caring. We believe that individuals can make a difference in their own lives and in our community. To achieve our vision, it must become the vision of many and that is at the heart of the work ahead: to partner with others to build, nurture, and sustain a movement to end poverty and homelessness in our community.
The vision to eliminate poverty necessarily means Bissell Centre will have to undertake numerous roles in our community – leader, participant, advocate, partner, mentor, learner, innovator, and risk taker. It also means that such an ambitious vision demands an equally ambitious, super ordinate strategy, which is this: to be a leader in the development of a community-wide movement to eliminate poverty and homelessness.
Such a strategy is not only about achieving BIG CHANGE in our community, it also calls our own organization to undergo significant change in how we see and live our role in community. While we continue to provide a range and depth of services to those most vulnerable in our community, we must become a catalyst for community synergy and action to overcome poverty and homelessness.
Please take a bit of time to view our strategic intent over the next five years. If you have any questions, ask us. If you want to help, join us. There is a whole lot to do.
Joe* came to Edmonton from a town in rural Alberta. He was new to the city and cautious about connecting with support. He spent a couple of weeks just staying in the inner city utilizing the shelters. Homeless, just released from the Remand Centre, and not keen on going back to the town he came from his relationship with family was strained and resources back home were limited.
Joe was referred to Bissell Centre’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum of Services (FASS) program and was immediately connected with Bissell’s housing program, Homeless to Homes. Still having some unfinished legal matters to deal with and in jeopardy of going back to the correctional system, Bissell’s FASS Advocate began timely and consistent support.
The two attended his court appearance; Joe could have pleaded guilty to his charges and asked for a trial however he wanted to face them and was totally prepared to deal with any consequences. He spoke very well on his own behalf and his FASS program support person also spoke to his own commitment. The advocate confirmed the supports offered at Bissell Centre and Joe’s willingness to participate. The judge took this into consideration and suggested that Joe continue with the program, his goals and to report back in a couple of months.
Joe acted on his opportunities and with the advice of his advocate successfully completed a work program at Bissell Centre. He also kept up his contact with his advocate and added to his repertoire of resources such as the Fee Reduction program through the City of Edmonton Recreation. He also started participating in the Friday afternoon floor hockey program. The judge that proceeded over his court case was very impressed with Joe’s efforts and his willingness to better himself. This resulted in no more court appearances. Since then Joes has been to see his sister and her family and is now in line to attend a fork lift certification program. He truly has helped himself by taking advantage of the support offered, recognizing his opportunities and putting the effort into his goals he had set up with his FASS advocate.
*Name has been changed to protect their identity.
| For more information on our FASS program |
To book your free FASD presentation contact:
FASD Community Educator
Office: 780.423.2285, ext 157
Bissell Centre and EFAN have teamed up to create a new educational video on FASD along with a music video and ring tone.
Join us at the new EPCOR tower lobby at 10423 101 Street on April 19th at the Volunteer Fair and FASD video launch event from 11am – 1:30pm.
– Story by Bissell Centre Drop-in Staff Member
A gentleman came into the drop-in about 8 weeks ago. He approached me and asked about several of our programs. Further discussion revealed he is a recovering alcoholic that had relapsed for the last four months and lost his home and job.
We met daily for three weeks when he decided to detox and head to AA to resume work with his sponsor. I encouraged him in this and provided bus tickets. Two more weeks passed and he regained his sobriety. He remained sober despite many stressors and I encouraged him daily with affirmations and active listening. Last week he told me he wanted to go try out for a job. I encouraged him and offered tickets to get him to the appointment.
He has good skills and believed this would assist him to get back into an apartment and off the street. He seemed to me to be a very motivated individual so I believed him about the interview. We role played and I tried to be as supportive as possible. Friday last week he came into the drop-in beaming. He was offered a job! It was very apparent how happy he was when he showed me his letter of offer for a very well paid position. I coached him around self confidence and gave some referrals for assistance with addictions when working.
He thanked me and asked about housing. I referred him to our Adult Support progam and instructed him as to what he needed to do to get funds for the first month’s rent and some start up funds for returning to work. Today I saw him and he showed me the copy of his lease. He moves in the 25th of January and starts his new job the 23rd. I am very happy for him. He told me he could not have done it without me. I told him I could not have done “it” were HE not so motivated and skilled and in the end it was he not me that “done it”. He promised to send a postcard to the Bissell from his first international posting. BRAVO!!!