Tag Archives: CHF

When one man stands tall, we all rise up: ending homelessness.

It will be home to 30 individuals with long-term lived experience of homelessness.

Housing. Supports. Community. Possibility.

These things will be there too.

Yesterday, we celebrated the official opening of Stepping Stone Manor, a 30 unit permanent housing apartment building with supports for individuals exiting chronic homelessness in our city. Dignitaries, builders from the RESOLVE Campaign who are supporting the building of an additional 7 – 10 more such buildings in our city, agency partners, neighbours, all came out to be part of the celebration.

Those who spoke had great words to say. About how we need more affordable housing. How ending homelessness begins with housing first. How people experience homelessness because of societal issues, not because they choose it. How addictions, divorce, mental health issues, all these things contribute to someone becoming homeless — but only when we do not have the necessary richness in our social welfare system to provide access to the supports they need to live their lives with dignity. When we do not have enough richness in our communities to build or safeguard someone’s resilience so they can weather life’s ups and downs.

It was inspiring. Exciting. Affirming to hear the speakers. To see so many people come out to be part of the event.

And then, Michael spoke. And what was a ‘hey let’s celebrate what we’re doing to make a difference’ became, ‘let’s remember that we don’t do this ‘for’ people so we feel good, we are doing it with them so that in the possibilities created, we have a better chance of becoming a better society where everyone knows that they belong, where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, kindness, care.

Michael spent 20 years living on the streets.

He slept in the woods. Used and abused drugs and alcohol.

He felt the shame of being imprisoned for things he’d done. The way he had become, the way he so often felt and was treated as ‘less than human’.

Fifteen months ago, Michael was released from prison and the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) started supporting him in his transition away from the streets, away from reacting to his life through crime, to finding the path he is so firmly committed to walking. The path of a brave, honourable and caring man.

“Housing is everything,” he told the crowd of 60 or so guests. “It gave me a place to begin again.”

He talked about the support CJHS has given him through housing. How it helped him make the decision to enter rehab. To get clean and sober. To walk a different path than through substance abuse and crime.

And it helped him see clearly the difference he can make when walking this path.

“I could look at the last 20 years as wasted or I can look forward to the next 20 years as an opportunity to do better,” he said.

His decision is to see the future through eyes of possibility, hope, growth, strength.

Last week, in a conversation with Michael about speaking at the event, he told me he still struggles to release his shame.

“You don’t deserve to carry shame,” I told him. “You deserve to carry pride, courage, strength.”

Yesterday, I watched a man step out from behind his past to claim his right to stand tall, to stand proud, to stand for what he believes in.

The chance to ‘do right’ for himself, his community, his people. The right to let go of the past. The right to build a new life on the path of his choosing. The right to see himself through eyes of compassion, love and hope. The right to be the true human being he is, not the one he was labelled before he awoke to his capacity to make a difference by being the difference he wants to create for all his relations.

Yesterday, I witnessed a man stand tall. He shone bright and in his light he illuminated the path for all to see; Ending homelessness doesn’t happen because one man decides to get off the streets. It happens because we as a society collectively take action to create paths away from homelessness for everyone. Where we all recognize that one man is every man, woman and child who has not had the opportunity to find their way home, not because they didn’t want to, but because there was no path.

Yesterday, a brilliant human being courageously stood tall and spoke up. The path is clear. We must all work together to end homelessness. It is the right thing to do.



Hope: the ultimate un-guide.  Beyond hope lives possibility!

Hope banner copy

We spoke of hope yesterday. Of hope and possibility and new paths and new directions.

We celebrated what was and opened doors to bright new futures.

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

The kick-off for Aurora on the Park and Providence House, two new affordable housing projects for formerly homeless Calgarians went without a hitch.

The dignitaries arrived, the guests crowded around the stage and the media stood by and listened and learned and felt drawn into the possibilities and hope of the future for all 49 people who will call one of the two buildings home sometime in the future.

And through it all, the sun shone, the birds sang and people felt optimistic and engaged in what we can do and are doing as a collective to end homelessness.

Alan Norris, President and CEO of Brookfield Residential and Chairman of the board of the Calgary Homeless Foundation and the RESOLVE Campaign summed it up well when he said that the 11 homebuilders who were there representing RESOLVE are competitive in their day jobs but very committed and collective in their desire to work together to make a difference in our city.

And as I stood and watched the crowd and listened to the speeches and took care of any details that needed addressing, I too felt the hope and optimism, the sense of possibility that filled the air around us.

Getting to this moment, where all the pieces came together to create such an exciting and successful event takes a lot of hard work and a lot of people.

I am blessed. I have an amazing team around me. Darcy and Aaron who so generously give of their time and talents. Wendy and Paul who also are gracious and giving. It is because of them and their efforts the day went off without a hitch.

Sure, as with every major event where you are working with many parties to create the desired outcome, there are those moments when all you want to do is throw up your hands and look at someone and say, “Really? You think that’s important or necessary right now?”

Those moments make me smile. They remind me of my human condition. That thing that connects all of us, that thing that keeps us all humble and striving to find new pathways to working together, to getting the job done, to doing it collectively.

Yesterday, as I watched and listened, I felt proud.

Proud that we as a city have a shared vision of ending homelessness.

Proud of our Mayor as he spoke of excellence and vision and commitment and what it means to work collectively to create a great city for everyone.

Proud of the other dignitaries who spoke and shared their support and kudos for all we are doing to make a difference in the world.

Proud of the media for turning up and documenting the events.

Proud of the communities of Hillhurst Sunnyside and Crescent Heights who were open to the possibilities these two projects respresent and welcomed them into their communities with such grace.

Proud of the artists of This is My City who created such a masterpiece as the yarnbombed house which we all stood in front of yesterday to celebrate the beginning of the new developments.

Proud of all my co-workers for turning up and being part of the event, for bringing their best to support what we are working to achieve together.

Proud of the RESOLVE team for caring so much about how the day went, how their donors were treated.

Proud of my team and the fund development team at CHF for giving their hearts to creating a day that truly did touch hearts, open minds and set possibilities for a better future, for all of us, free.

Proud of a stranger named Pedro who lives down the street who came back with his camera because he’s a documentary film maker and he wanted to record the events for us as a gift.

And proud of everyone who came and stood in the hot blazing sun and took a stand for building homes for those who have lost their way.

I felt hopeful yesterday as I listened and watched.

I felt honoured, inspired and humbled.

What a great day!





Ending homelessness. If this can happen, what else is possible?

Next Tuesday, June 9th, from 3 – 7pm, the Calgary Homeless Foundation will be inviting the public to join in the kick-off of construction of two new housing projects , Aurora on the Park and Providence House. These 24 and 25 unit apartment buildings will become home for formerly homeless Calgarians. Part of the RESOLVE Campaign, they mark another step, many steps, forward in our collective vision of ending homelessness in Calgary.

There is a lot of hope around these two buildings. A lot of belief in the future, the possibility of lives changing, homelessness ending.

For the kick-off event, we have contracted This is My City Art Society to yarnbomb the entire house. For two weeks, artists and volunteers wrapped afghan blankets and skeins of wool around the building and its fixtures creating an art piece that not only draws attention from every passerby, and is also encouraging people to come from other parts of the city to take a look at, it also signifies what can happen when a hope becomes a dream, becomes a possibility, becomes reality.

The finished art piece is incredible. The house is all wrapped up in beauty, whimsy and a sense of warmth and hominess, ‘just like grandma’s’, as one reporter said in his TV piece on the house.

More than grandma’s, this house, and the building that will eventually be home to 24 people who will live there and be supported through each step away from homelessness, represents hope. Hope for a better quality of life. Hope for a better future. Hope for change that makes a real difference.

This project is all about hope.

Ask someone with longterm lived experience of homelessness what kept them mired in that place of no fixed address and they will often reply, “I had no hope anything could be different.”

It is a common refrain.

“I gave up on hope while I was homeless.”

Homelessness, by its very nature, is filled with loss.  Your belongings. Home. Family connections. Friends. Job. Life as you knew it is lost.

And then there’s the other losses which are harder to measure, more difficult to see, even though they are felt deeply by those experiencing them.

The loss of hope. The loss of believing you can create different in your life. The loss of knowing where you belong. The loss of feeling accepted, worthy, part of the greater world out there just for who you are. In homelessness, you lose your ‘things’. You also lose your sense of self.

While at the house on its final day of yarnbombing, I was speaking with one of the artists with lived experience of homelessness. He told me about finally getting a place of his own, a year ago this week. “I hadn’t realized until I sat back in my own living room and started counting the time I was homeless how long it had been,” he said. “Seven years.”

What kept you there (at a shelter) so long? I asked.

“I lost all hope,” he replied.

Each day became like the last. Every day predictable, even in all its uncertainty. If it was Sunday, the dinner was this because volunteer group A came in on Sundays and prepared the meal. Monday, it was group B. He could go to work at some temp job, get paid a fee and know, hoping for anything different was futile. He had no hope. How could things be different?

There was no sense to hope for anything different, he told me. It was always the same old, same old.

And that included the feelings of losing your sense of self, of your own worth, competency, ability to create change. Like hope, it evaporated with every passing day until without even counting down the days, the light was gone and all hope of ever finding your way out of the darkness vanished.

How did you eventually get out? I asked.

It was through art. Through connecting with This is My City Art Society and getting involved in their initiatives, he began to see another path, another way.

With every streak of paint from a paint brush, with every bit of creation and connection made with the world beyond the shelter, hope came alive.

On Tuesday, June 9th, we will kick-off the construction of 49 units of housing for formerly homeless Calgarians. There are two buildings in different communities, both of which have embraced the idea that ending homelessness begins in their backyards.

In 2008 when Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness was launched, there was only a hope that this could happen.

Today, it’s a reality.

We cannot give up on hope.

If this can happen, what else is possible?

Hope banner copy

This is still part of my Ultimate Un-guide series. Ending homelessness is all about holding onto the hope that it is possible, and then, taking action to create the possibility.

Moving past our buts to possibilities — ending homelessness

We are five days away from the Great Big Summit and there is still lots to do.

And it’s getting done.

Yesterday, after one final read through the Plan by a team-member, we pressed send and shipped it off to the designer to tighten up the layout.

I went through my list.

Agenda. Done. Except for tightening up the wording on the last item.

Speakers. Confirmed.

Speaker notes. Sent.

Key Messages. Drafted.

Q&A. Drafted.

Keynote Speaker. Organized.

At a Glance. In review, ready for print tomorrow.

Posters. Order today.

Attendee packages. Final copy ready for printing.

Website. Design approved. Ready for final copy today and tomorrow.

Video. Final shoots today. Edit over weekend.

And the list goes on.

In one month, we have managed to pull together the pieces of what we hope to be an inspiring event on Tuesday. An event that will galvanize community around the vision of ending homelessness, and spark collective impact in getting the job done.

Together we are stronger.

Last night, just before leaving the office, I stepped into the CEOs office to check on the change I’d made on the agenda. “I don’t think I’ve quite got the wording right,” I told her.

She looked at what I’d written and replied, “Hmmm. Let me think on it tonight. Maybe something will come to me.”

“Thanks. I just can’t quite hit on how to phrase this one,” I replied.

And she laughed and said, “Good thing is, you don’t have to do it alone.”

I let my need to find the perfect turn of phrase go.

I’m part of a team.

That’s the beauty of collaboration. Cooperation. Community.

Ending homelessness is a shared vision. It improves the lives of everyone. Not just those living beneath its burdens, but all of us in community.

The other day I received an email from a property manager asking how to deal with ‘vagrants’ hanging around a strip mall they’ve just taken over managing.

In my email response, I did not use the word vagrant and chose instead to educate with words that described homelessness as a societal condition affecting human beings. I also gave her the telephone number of the police district office and suggested she speak with the Community Resource Officer.

I could do that because I know I am not alone.

Ending homelessness is a collective responsibility.

It takes all of us.

Here in Calgary, our police service has taken a proactive approach to working with communities to help mitigate the impact of those who struggle with homelessness in their community and those living with the experience of homelessness in their communities. They don’t take an us versus them perspective. They work inclusively with agencies, communities, businesses, faith groups and individuals to find mutually supportive solutions.

Sure, as I write that someone is bound to say, “Yes but…”

And then rhyme off an incident they witnessed where maybe, compassion and inclusivity were not the key operational terms of reference.


But the fact is, just as I am not alone, and the CHF is not alone in ending homelessness, and the person experiencing it is not alone in ending homelessness, neither is the police service. They too rely on each of us, on businesses, individual citizens, communities, everyone to do their part.

And part of what we  all need to do is recognize our role as a collective. There is power in our shared vision of ensuring homelessness does not continue to destroy lives and undermine community. As long as we get our ‘buts’ out of its possibilities, we can do it.

There are many possibilities in ending homelessness.

The question isn’t ‘Can we?’ The questions is “What can I do?”

The possibilities are limitless when we share in the power of our collective impact and move beyond the reasons why we can’t.

We’re launching the update to the Plan to End Homelessness on Tuesday.

It’s not CHF’s Plan. It’s not my Plan or her Plan or his. It’s ours.

You can play a role. Come to the Great Big Summit on Tuesday and find out what you can do to make a difference.

Everyone is invited. There’s no cost to attend. But there is one if you don’t. And that is the one that costs the most. Your voice will not be part of the agenda. Your difference will not be felt. And we will not have the same collective impact without you.


Homelessness Sucks: Homeless Awareness Day 2014

Bringin-It-Home-Homeless-Awareness-Day-InvitationToday is World Homeless Awareness Day. Around the world cities and communities will be marking the day with events designed to focus our attention on what it means to be homeless and what it takes to end it.

Here in Calgary, we are holding an event at Olympic Plaza at noon. Mayor Nenshi will be saying a few words as will the Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, Diana Krecsy. There will be performances by rapper, Transit and a young man, Austin, who he’s been mentoring. There will also be an opportunity to see the decorated patio-sized planter boxes that The Alex has created as part of its Planting Seeds of Change initiative. Fifteen agencies have painted and decorated the boxes which will be auctioned off online in the coming weeks.

While the event is designed to be fun and interactive, let’s make no mistake about it. Homelessness Sucks.

We’ve got suckers to hand out to prove it. Youth with lived experience of homelessness will be handing them out to passers-by. On each sucker is a statement a youth from the sector has written about what it means, or feels like, or is to be homeless.

Statements like,

You got no friends and family

You’re always dirty

People think you’re lazy or just don’t work hard enough to get a home

Nobody cares

It’s a dog eat dog world out there and you just can’t trust nobody.

It ages you real fast.

Someone asked me if events like this make any difference. I replied that doing nothing makes a difference, so doing something will as well. If all we do is get the media to keep the focus on homelessness, and the dire need for affordable housing in our city, we will have done something to make a difference. And that counts.

Because, that’s the key message of the event. Affordable housing is the key.

To end homelessness and to prevent it, everyone needs affordable, safe and secure homes to live in. Here in Calgary, that’s hard to come by. Rents continue to rise, availability of housing continues to lessen. We have more people moving to the city everyday. The last stat I saw said that approximately 375 people move to Calgary on a daily basis.

Where are they going to live?

It’s a tough question to answer if you don’t make $17.29 per hour, the living wage in Calgary. (Based on 35-hour work week, the “living wage” works out to $31,470 annual salary.) And even then, in a city with a 1.2% vacancy rent where average rents have increased by over 5% in the past year, there’s still no guarantee you’ll find a place to live that you can afford, in the neighbourhood you want with the amenities you desire. (Source) 

Calgary’s lack of affordable housing is evident in the homeless sector. Where once, an individual could enter the system of care and be housed within a month, it now takes at least 6 months for housing locators to find housing, and there is no option. The individual either must take it, or wait again.

Affordable housing ends homelessness. Without it, people will continue to filter in and out of emergency shelter. They will continue to sleep in parks and on benches, in doorways and alleys. They will continue to live beyond the margins of everyday existence, falling further and further away from that place they never once imagined they would never have, home.

If you’ve in Calgary, please come down to Olympic Plaza today and support the agencies and hundreds of workers and people with lived experience who will be there to ensure we don’t lose sight of the truth too many youth, adults and families are living today, Homelessness Sucks.