Trading suits and keyboards for jeans and hammers, 75 members of Edmonton’s legal community swung into action this summer to put a good roof over well-deserving heads.
Various judges and law firms raised more than $75,000 for the project, built in honour of the late Justice William Sinclair.
They also donated hundreds of volunteer hours under the close supervision of Habitat for Humanity (HFH), a non-profit, Christian housing ministry that has built homes for more than 100,000 needy families in 79 countries over the last 25 years.
“Being associated with something this positive is always very nice,” says Dennis Denis of Ogilvie LLP Barristers and Solicitors and HFH co-chair.
|Kenton Friesen, Business Edge|
|Tsehaitu Weldekidan and son Efrem pose with Dennis Denis.|
On Sept. 27 the summer’s work culminated in a formal ceremony to hand the 900-sq.-ft. home to Tsehaitu Weldekidan and her son Efrem, who were chosen for the house because of their need, their willingness to become partners in the building process and their ability to repay a no-interest loan.
“It’s a hand up, not a hand-out,” says HFH’s Horst Depner.
The pride in the face of family members was evident as they stood in their newly completed home.
The house, one of four built by Habitat for Humanity (HFH) in the Montrose neighbourhood this year, is, in part, a product of 500 hours of sweat equity on behalf of the nursing assistant and her son.
“We got to see it from the inside and out. It was cool,” says Efrem, a first-year science student at Grant MacEwan College, whose favourite job was painting. It’s been a long road from refugee to homeowner. Thirteen years ago, after losing her husband in the lengthy colonial war between Ethiopia and her native Eritrea, Weldekidan left extended family and friends in search of a better life.
After three years of living in a grass hut in a sweltering Sudanese refugee camp, the Canadian government sponsored the family to come to Edmonton.
Once in the city, Weldekidan took a course to become a nursing assistant and got a job working at the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre, showing the initiative HFH looks for in its selection process.
The family has agreed to make monthly payments against the interest-free loan that amounts to 80 per cent of the appraised value of the home. A second mortgage of 20 per cent is forgiven on a sliding 20-year scale to prevent windfall profits.
“My son has freedom now,” says Weldekidan with a smile.
And the smiles are contagious, as families with little chance of building equity make the big jump into home ownership, often for less monthly cost than their previous rent.
Rick Geddes of HFH Calgary says target families are those who live one paycheque away from homelessness.
In Calgary, land prices are making it difficult to build economical housing, causing HFH to build duplexes (with land still costing $50,000 per side) or look to areas outside the city such as Okotoks.
Two of the five projects scheduled for the Calgary area next year will be planned and built completely by women, opening the door for more diverse volunteer involvement.
“There’s girls out there who now know how to lift a hammer and screw something in and fix something. They get more confidence in themselves, too,” says Sue Kress of RBC Dominion Securities. RBC has donated $150,000 and countless volunteer hours to HFH over the past three years.
The level of mental, physical and income stability required to qualify for a home through Habitat is often tough for a destitute person.
“Habitat for Humanity is quite far along the continuum from shelter services,” says Katie Black, co-chair of the Calgary Inter-Agency Committee, which deals with homelessness.
About 11,000 people used Calgary’s shelters last year, according to a report by the committee.
On any given night in both of Alberta’s major cities, more than 1,100 people rely on shelters or live on the street.
Two new Calgary shelters have recently been built, providing more than a simple mat in a warm room. The Calgary Drop-In Centre has developed several floors, with a gradual increase in privacy and comfort from floor to floor, allowing those staying longer to take on more responsibility.
The Salvation Army Centre of Hope provides beds but also focuses on making mental health treatment available.
Virtually zero housing vacancy and skyrocketing rental costs have caused the numbers of Alberta homeless to inflate faster than the population.
The province’s vibrant economy has attracted workers from across Canada, some of whom can’t afford the living expenses once they arrive.
The war on poverty continues to be fought on many levels, and support agencies agree a wide-ranging community effort is needed to tackle the problem on an ongoing basis.