Gathering to celebrate the 7th Annual Interfaith-Habitat Works project on February 27, representatives of many faith traditions, including: Anglican, Christian Reformed, Jewish, Mennonite, Mormon, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Sikh, were welcomed by Wayne McNeilly, Lead Pastor of Evangel Pentecostal Assembly; and Batya Ivry-Friedman, Capital Region Interfaith Housing (CRIHI) Coordinator, and Mike Van Boom, CRIHI Housing Ambassador.
Friedman acknowledged that the gathering was held on Treaty 6 territory, the traditional land of First Nation and Métis people. Fraser Williamson, a member of All Saints’ Cathedral and the Interfaith-Habitat Works volunteer recruitment committee, presented an offering of tobacco to Harold Roscher, Edmonton Native Healing Centre Director. Roscher shared a Cree blessing and prayer and extended a standing invitation to interfaith members to join his community for a Soup and Bannock lunch, held each Wednesday at noon.
“Heavenly Father, bless this work done together by the interfaith community on Habitat for Humanity’s housing project with gifts of strength, courage, wisdom, compassion and love as we seek to bless our neighbours and friends with a new home.
“Help us always to be generous with what we have and share with those who have less. We pray, too, that you will bring healing where there is strife and brokenness. Give to the powerful a change of heart, and to those who suffer courage and the ability to forgive. Where there is death and hatred, sow seeds of new life. Our prayer turns toward the frontline workers who will help build community through their construction efforts. We pray for safety, courage, and willing spirit to serve all of the citizens of Edmonton. Creator help us as citizens of this great city to offer our continued support to these unsung heroes among us…”
“We are faith communities from across the city of Edmonton working together to address homelessness,” said Van Boom. “What is common to all of us is the need to love, care for and serve our neighbour. For seven years we have worked side-by-side to address homelessness in a very practical way,” he said.
“This is a wonderful project, it really speaks to my heart and it’s such a great show of faith that we can come together to address this need for housing,” said Sofia Yaqub, a member of Edmonton’s Muslim community.
“Every Albertan has a right to live in a safe and affordable home, regardless of their income,” said Dr. Bob Turner, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud, who brought greetings on behalf of Alberta Premier the Hon. Rachel Notley and Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Seniors and Housing.
In June, 2017 the Alberta government unveiled a five-year, $1.2 billion affordable housing strategy. The strategy will help at least 4,000 of the 15,000 Alberta families on a waiting list for affordable housing.
When faith communities build together it unites us “in a very meaningful way,” said Chris Bruce, a member of the Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors. “One of Habitat’s values is to serve and work with people of all faiths and beliefs in the spirit of justice and compassion,” he said. “It’s truly amazing to hear how this program to help bring affordable home ownership to local families has grown over the past seven years.”
In March, 2011 leaders from 23 different faith communities in the Capital Region gathered at the Citadel Theatre to sign an interfaith statement on homelessness and affordable housing in support of the City of Edmonton’s plan to eliminate homelessness, said Julien Hammond, Coordinator of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.
“Religious leaders and the communities they represent were poised to contribute effectively to the city’s plan through the physical building of new homes and by reaching out to neighbours and inviting participation in community life,” said Hammond. The Interfaith-Habitat Works project is one of several initiatives that have emerged to address these two interests. The first year of the initiative saw 120 volunteers from several different faith communities participate. “In subsequent years, many more individuals, families, groups of people from Edmonton area, churches, mosques, temples, gurdwaras, synagogues, and sometimes people with no particular faith affiliation, have participated with our faith communities in this unique opportunity,” he said.
The Habitat program helps families cross the bridge to a more stable future through affordable home ownership. Families work alongside Habitat volunteers to build their new home. They are then given the opportunity to purchase the home (interest-free) from Habitat at market value.
“Their mortgage payments are never more than 25 per cent of their income,” said Bruce. “And all our families receive tool training and courses in home budgeting and home maintenance to prepare them for success as homeowners,” he said. Habitat uses the money it receives from mortgage payments to build more homes and serve more families.
This year, Habitat is continuing to focus on two main builds in the Edmonton area. Former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn visited Edmonton in July, 2017 to help launch the Carter Place project. At the time, President Carter said: “When we get through this build here, we’ll look back and say this was one of the best we ever had. It’s because the people in Edmonton work so hard to make Habitat a success whether we are here or not.” Located in southeast Edmonton, the Carter Place development will be home to 58 families. To date, nine families have moved into their newly completed homes.
An additional 16 homes are being built in Fort Saskatchewan, where six families have already moved in. Since the start of the project, St. George’s Anglican Church has served weekly lunches to the volunteers.
“Whether you’re serving at Carter Place, in Fort Saskatchewan, here in our prefab shop, or at one of our ReStores, we trust that you will find the Interfaith Works project both memorable and meaningful,” said Bruce. “Thank you for coming together in the spirit of justice and compassion and for choosing to do this through Habitat for Humanity.”
Following the Interfaith-Habitat Works kick-off program, community members, dignitaries and Habitat leaders and volunteers enjoyed lunch (generously provided by the Muslim and Jewish communities) together at the Habitat for Humanity Prefab Shop.
The Interfaith Habitat Works project is aimed at engaging up to 500 faith community volunteers by May 31.
“There is opportunity for everyone to participate and we invite you all to join us in this year’s fun and life-giving project, whatever your interests and abilities,” said Hammond.
You can learn about the many volunteer opportunities online at: https://www.hfh.org/volunteer/interfaith-works-project/