A homeless man sitting on a sidewalk. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Homeless venture hits milestone

By  ANDREW EHRKAMP, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 13, 2019

EDMONTON -- It started with Edmonton churches asking “How can we help?”

The answer has been No Room in the Inn, an annual ecumenical appeal that over 20 years has raised more than $1 million to help those who lack adequate and safe housing.

It’s a milestone that Mayor Don Iveson honoured at Edmonton’s City Hall on June 12. But it’s also a reminder that homelessness continues to be an issue in Edmonton.

“Why does the campaign continue? It’s because there are a lot of people still living on the streets, and that will happen no matter how much we help, but there are fewer people on the streets than years ago,” said Don Mayne, a former United Church minister who helped found the No Room in the Inn.

“How better to help the homeless than letting the churches do it?”

Based on the biblical story of Mary and Joseph on the night Jesus was born, the No Room in the Inn campaign appeals to churchgoers at Christmas time. Each year their donations go to a designated organization that provides housing.

No Room in the Inn has raised $1,028,493.15 since it was started by the Edmonton District Council of Churches. Participants include Roman and Ukrainian Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Quaker congregations, and the United Church. The Archdiocese of Edmonton has been a member of teh council for more than 60 years.

At 91, Mayne continues to be a strong supporter of the campaign he helped launch back in 1999. He recalls an organizational meeting where the question on everyone’s mind was: “How do we serve the inner city better as churches? And the answer was: We need to work together more.

“It’s work that was very much needed,” Mayne said. “A lot of people wanted to support the work of churches to help the homeless, but they didn’t know how or where to do it.”

Twenty years later, the No Room in the Inn campaign is still strong — and very much needed.

An estimated 1,720 people experience chronic homelessness in the city, according to a 2018 report by Homeward Trust Edmonton, As well, more than 22,000 households spend more than 50 per cent of their income on rent, and over 6,000 households are on the waitlist for social housing.

In the Archdiocese of Edmonton, a letter is sent to parishes each year encouraging support of the No Room in the Inn campaign. 

Donations have varied each year from a low of $18,356.21 in 2002 to a high of $79,540.35 in 2011.

This year’s recipient of the No Room in the Inn funds will be Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton, which will use the money to address homelessness among the elderly.

Past recipients include Hope Mission, L’Arche Association of Edmonton, Wings of Providence — a shelter for women — and in 2018, Youth Empowerment and Support Services.

It was the first time the campaign directly targeted homeless youth. Its $42,186.36 donation will cover most of the renovation costs for one washroom at the YESS facility on Whyte Avenue. Program director Jessica Day said their washrooms are being renovated to make them safe and reduce harm to clients, 40 per cent of whom identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or two-spirited.

The donation was particularly meaningful, she said, because homeless youth often have a complicated relationship with religion — some are experiencing homelessness because of religion while others are leaving behind the support of a faith community.

“I don’t think you will ever eliminate youth homelessness,” Day said. 

“But what we can do is provide safe accommodation faster and more effectively, so the time they are experiencing homelessness is as short as possible.”

Julien Hammond, chairman of the No Room in the Inn committee for the Archdiocese of Edmonton, said the campaign members are in “complete and utter awe” that they have been able to raise more than $1 million with little infrastructure — the campaign is based largely on volunteers.

(Grandin Media)

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