WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLERt
Sr. Mary Clare Stack of Catholic Social Services and Cam MacDonald of Edmonton Inner City Housing Society were among the volunteers bringing welcome baskets to the new tenants of Harry Holt Place.
EDMONTON — Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were told that there was no room for them in the inn, and so they took refuge in a stable until Jesus was born.
About 2,400 homeless men, women and children in Edmonton face a similar dire situation, with nowhere to live and hundreds of them camping outdoors in the river valley.
For the 12th year, the city’s Christian churches have joined forces to assist the homeless through the No Room in the Inn campaign. Parishes are invited to donate a part of their Christmas Eve collections to the campaign. Funds raised are delivered to a specific housing project, selected by the Edmonton & District Council of Churches and the Quality of Life Commission.
Fifty congregations from seven different Christian denominations have raised over $400,000 for housing projects. Each parish chooses whether it wants to contribute to the campaign. Some opt out, others give a portion of their Christmas Eve offerings and others give the full amount.
The campaign has raised at least $25,000 per year, with the money forwarded to projects that provide safe and affordable housing.
In 2008, funds went to Crossroads Downtown, an E4C housing organization initiative designed to help women and trans-gendered individuals leave prostitution and the street life behind.
Last year’s collection was the campaign’s most successful, bringing in more than $61,000 in support of Harry Holt Place, located at 11908-81 St., which provides 16 modestly sized units to support families, couples and individuals in need. The Roman Catholic contribution was $9,700 from 13 parishes.
After living at the YMCA for a year, Curtis Davies had to leave and lived on the streets for two years. During this difficult time, dealing with mental problems, he found comfort in the fact that if he asked for help, many people responded positively.
“So many places in life, if you don’t wear the right clothes or talk the right way, they don’t have time for you. They are just trying to make money, and they won’t even look you in the eye,” said Davies.
“The people with Edmonton Inner City Housing are different because it’s not a profit they’re after. Their main concern is trying to help people.”
An important step in turning his life around was finding a place to live. Now he lives in a comfortable suite at Harry Holt Place, paying $320 a month for rent.
Davies said people of all faiths have been helpful. Whenever he has needed a helping hand, men and women of faith have responded.
“It doesn’t surprise me that three-quarters of the people who have reached out to help me have some sort of affiliation with the Church — whatever church it is — Catholics, Protestants, United. An overall faith seems to instil people with more compassion,” he said.
The closest Catholic parish to Harry Holt Place is St. Alphonsus.
Last year, Fathers Robert Kasun and Mark Gazin were new to the parish. They wanted to live the Gospel in a grassroots way by getting to know their parishioners and the people in the community.
So they started a loonie/toonie collection during Advent. The total collection was contributed to No Room in the Inn.
Sister Mary Clare Stack of Catholic Social Services said the people of St. Alphonsus went beyond giving money and tried to build respectful relationships with the residents.
The greatest struggle faced by people who move into new housing is loneliness, Stack said. So the parish hosted three talks on the homelessness issue and hosted a neighbourhood barbecue.
St. Alphonsus Parish will host more sit-down dinners next year. On Dec. 1 the group gave gift baskets to the residents of Harry Holt Place.
Stack said this is their way of saying, “You are welcome in our backyard.”
This year’s collection goes to the Canora Place project, sponsored by the Jasper Place Health and Wellness Centre, a charity that has been reaching out to marginalized people in West Edmonton since 2006. Canora Place will provide housing units for 30 homeless men and women.
Assistance will be provided to enable them to maintain an independent residence. Follow-up support workers will help with budgeting, shopping, menu planning, health care and other life skills. The objective is to build skills and confidence for self-sufficient living in a permanent residence.
Archbishop Richard Smith was a member of the leadership committee for creating the mayor’s 10-Year Plan for Ending Homelessness in Edmonton. He continued his involvement with the homelessness issue through his membership in the Edmonton Homelessness Commission.
“No Room in the Inn appeals to the people of the churches of Edmonton at Christmastime to think about the thousands of people living in Edmonton who do not have adequate and safe housing in which to live,” Smith said in a letter to pastors.