Churches launch homeless support program

Red Deer churches are pulling together to do their part in the community plan to end homelessness.

Red Deer churches are pulling together to do their part in the community plan to end homelessness.

Representatives from an array of PLURA (Presbyterian, Lutheran, United, Roman Catholic and Anglican) churches are preparing to launch sometime within the next few months the Welcome Home project, a volunteer-based program to support individuals and families who have been recently designated housing as they adjust to life off the streets or out of previous inadequate housing.

Welcome Home, spearheaded by Rev. Linda Ervin, the lead minister for Sunnybrook United Church, matches local volunteers with newly housed people to help them feel less isolated in their new neighbourhood.

“Our goal is to build a sense of community and for them to know they’re not alone in this transition . . . Moving into a home is difficult so we want to accompany that person and go out for coffee together, to the movies, out for walks, talk about how to take care of monthly bills,” Ervin said.

Two volunteers will be assigned for one newly-housed person or family and provided a small stipend from Welcome Home’s budget to contribute to activities.

The project is being funded largely on a grant from the City of Red Deer for around $38,000. Women’s Outreach is also involved and will be taking care of the project’s books.

Welcome Home will kick off as a pilot project sometime in the next few months, Ervin said, and work with six individuals/families and 12 volunteers, who undergo extensive training.

“We’re going to start off small and see how it goes and hopefully then we will expand after the first year, depending on volunteers,” she said.

They currently need more volunteers and are preparing to hire a part time co-ordinator of volunteers. It will be the only paid position for Welcome Home.

Ervin said she hopes to have things up and running by no later than June.

“This program will provide an additional resource to the city in reaching the city’s goal of providing housing first as part of its plan to end homelessness,” Ervin said. “The value in it is people will be connecting cross culturally, across economic lines, so they’re breaking down barriers and I think out of that comes healthier communities.”

A Welcome Home program in Edmonton, run by Catholic Social Services, has been underway for the past two years and reports a 80 per cent success rate.

In one example of how the program is making a difference, Ervin said two volunteers helped an Edmonton man who had recently purchased a computer beyond his means.

“The support people went back to the place where he has purchased the computer and pushed and pushed and were able to resolve the issue, bringing the price down so that it was easier for him to pay on a fixed income. If they hadn’t been with him, he probably would be out on the street again.”

Ervin said she hopes Welcome Home also opens up communication in the community and encourages more people to start asking questions about why people are poor, putting an end to a culture of blaming the individuals.

“When you’re poor for so long and you don’t have any support, what do you do? Where do you go? Often, people give up and we don’t want people to give up. So many people get into housing and then they leave. Now, we’re trying to provide a resource. That’s why this Welcome Home project makes sense.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with Welcome Home can contact Ervin at 403-347-6073 or by email at lindaervin@sunnybrookunited.org

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com

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