Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 20, 2006
Public called to help battle growing homelessness in city
Lobby gov't, volunteer with support groups reaching out to those with no shelter
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"There are lots of organizations that do need donations and volunteer help
- Jim Gurnett
"There are lots of organizations that do need donations and volunteer help as they try to work with the housing problem," he said.
"They need help with things like serving meals or providing blankets and warm mittens and toques to give to people that are outside in the cold weather."
There are two main reasons for the increase in homeless people, with one being that more people are coming to Edmonton looking for work.
"Edmonton is a magnet right now because of the labour market and so we are seeing a lot of people that believe there are jobs here and are coming without any prior planning," noted Gurnett, who is also director of the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.
"But the more serious reason is because there is not enough low-cost housing available in Edmonton for people that don't have a lot of money."
Susan McGee, executive director of the Edmonton Joint Planning Committee on Housing, said, "The booming Alberta economy, combined with low vacancy rates and lack of affordable housing has created a whole new class of homeless individuals - the working poor.
"It's obvious by the past two counts that solutions for housing are necessary-beyond shelters."
McGee said ordinary people could do "quite a bit" to address the immediate needs of the homeless. "There are a lot of organizations like Boyle Street Coop, the Bissell Centre and Hope Mission that are always in need of support and assistance.
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Joey Gable-Tessier and Denise Pelletier, both of St. Edmond's Parish, and Fred Schneider of St. Anthony's Parish help to prepare the next day's stew for homeless men who come to the Marian Centre for lunch.
People have responded "beautifully" to the Marian Centre's annual begging campaign by bringing clothing and food and donating their time, Stewart said. "I guess the thing I would just ask is that people pray for us that we can continue to do what the Lord ask us."
Those who are in a position to donate land or large amounts of money to build affordable housing should talk to the Edmonton Housing Trust Fund, she said.
Julien Hammond, spokesperson for the Edmonton Archdiocese on social justice, said people should get behind the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA), which is working to get governments and developers to provide more affordable housing.
"I would recommend the people inform themselves at the parish level about the workings of the Greater Edmonton Alliance," he said. Most city parishes are involved with the GEA.
At the same time people should support organizations like the Marian Centre, Bissell Centre or St. Vincent the Paul Society, which provide for the immediate needs of the impoverished.
"We have to help the homeless and everyone affected by the lack of affordable housing but at the same time we have to ask why is this happening in this place," Hammond said.
Ele Gibson of the Bissell Centre said her organization has "a tremendous increase in people asking for support and a tremendous increase in people who we know are homeless."
They are asking for the basic essentials. "They want to have a shower or they want to shave," Gibson said. "They need toothbrushes; they need warm clothing like toques and mitts and things like that. They want a cup of coffee or something to eat."
The Bissell Centre provides daily services for the homeless, including a drop-in centre. "The showers and the laundry are going all the time," Gibson noted.
Patrick Stewart of the Marian Centre agrees that ordinary people should encourage politicians to do more to develop affordable housing.
The Marian Centre director also urged people to get involved with GEA. They can also volunteer at the shelters and soup kitchens that are taking care of the immediate needs of the homeless.
"And one other thing is people should be open to low-income housing initiatives in their neighbourhood. That's one difficulty for Habitat for Humanity and other initiatives - people saying, 'I don't want those people here. I don't want to hurt my neighbourhood.'
"In many cases the houses that are being built by Habitat are nicer than the neighbourhood they are going into. You know there is a fear, fear of poor people."
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.