Pastor Mike Van Boon

Pastor Mike Van Boon

May 4, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

One major obstacle to providing housing for homeless people in Edmonton is that communities often don't want the poor in their neighbourhoods, says Pastor Mike Van Boon.

Boon, a board member of the Capital Region Interfaith Initiative on Homelessness and Affordable Housing, said when city representatives and developers propose a project in certain neighbourhoods they are often met with hostility.

"There is a lot of fear that tends to dominate the conversation and then we see housing projects, affordable housing, and permanent supportive housing projects that get shut down," he told the Canadian Council of Churches delegation.

At a recent community meeting at Sacred Heart Church, Boon said faith communities should send ambassadors into a neighbourhood before the developers get there with a proposal.

"The city wants to tackle homelessness and poverty but we need to get out in front helping open some of those doors," he said.

Bob McKeon

Bob McKeon

"We have to sit down and have that conversation when there isn't a 'yes' or 'no' vote on a big project at the end of the day."

According to Bob McKeon, the archdiocese's associate director of social justice, until eight years ago the city responded to the growth of homelessness by temporarily increasing its emergency services.

SQUATTER CAMP

That changed in 2007, when the

visible homeless in the city created a Tent City near City Hall. "We had a squatter camp three blocks from City Hall with a couple of hundred folks in it," he recalled. "That caught the attention of the mayor and everybody else."

That's how Edmonton's 10-year Plan to Eliminate Homelessness came about.

"It was not simply to make (homelessness) less painful but the goal was to eliminate chronic homelessness," McKeon said. "We are now entering the sixth year.

"It became very clear that that there needed to be total community mobilization to make that goal happen. It could not simply be a government program or an inner city program."

Faith leaders made a public commitment in 2011 to do all they can to support the 10-year plan.

Among other things, they launched Welcome Home, a program made up of mainly faith volunteers who accompany, mentor and welcome the formerly homeless to their new neighbourhoods.