Jan: How faith communities in Ottawa can strengthen social services



The Hollyer House in Bells Corners is a compelling example of how this can work. It is a community hub that will include affordable mixed-use housing, community programs, a grocery store and a women’s shelter.

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As we begin to emerge from two years of a crushing pandemic, the needs of our communities are greater than ever. Social service agencies – which provide services such as mental health supports, basic needs and after-school programs – are being forced to use their limited resources more than ever. The incredible people who serve the most vulnerable are exhausted by recurring crises.

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Creative collaboration between faith-based organizations and social services could help alleviate some of this pressure.

The hollyer The House Community Hub and affordable housing project in Ottawa’s Bells Corners neighborhood, slated to open this fall, is a compelling example of how partnerships between faith-based organizations and social services are forging in transformational community development work.

The community hub will include 35 affordable mixed-use housing units, a community programming center, a supply cabinet, a women’s shelter and a community hall. Two-thirds of housing at the hub will be reserved for women and children leaving emergency shelters and people on the waiting list for social housing. The last third will be sold at the average market price.

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The project is a unique partnership between the West Ottawa Community Resource Centre, FAMSAC Food Cupboard, Cornerstone Housing for Women, Chrysalis House, the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa and Christ Church Bells Corners, with support from Cahdco.

This collaboration is remarkable at a time when resources for social projects that help vulnerable people are scarce and the needs are great. Ottawa declared a housing emergency in January 2020 and the situation has only gotten worse since then. More than 1,900 people, including children, sleep each night in shelters across the city. The waiting list for subsidized housing in Ottawa is over 10,000 households.

Faith-based institutions are neighborhood gathering places that already have strong ties to their communities and contribute to safety and well-being. These groups have long championed community services by donating to food banks, responding to community crises and supporting refugees, the homeless and vulnerable youth.

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Bringing more religious or spiritual institutions to the table could benefit our communities because, in many cases, they have what the social service sector sorely needs: resources, physical infrastructure and the ability to deliver programs. Moreover, these organizations already know how people in their various communities are faring and are trusted by people in their neighborhood.

While historical damage has made some marginalized groups wary of religious organizations, efforts are underway to mend some of these fractures. For example, the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa recently invested in new programs for elders at the Inuuqatigiit Center for Inuit Children, Youth and Families — a small step on the long road to reconciliation.

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Many faith communities promote civic engagement, inclusion and resource mobilization, all of which are essential for effective collaboration. Many local social services are also affiliated or initiated within religious communities. These organizations emerged as a formal way to carry out the spiritual commitments of their communities. Some, like Jewish Family Services, operate as social service agencies in their own right.

Get involved in a world-wide project hollyer House Initiative, a faith-based organization must have sufficient organizational capacity, transparency and accountability structures in place, and be willing to build trust with communities that may have suffered harm from these institutions.

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Small organizations can still be great partners: they can share information with their congregations or provide spaces for community activities; help with outreach and referrals to needed services; encourage their subscribers to get involved in community activities; and lend their voice to advocacy efforts.

The hollyer The House Project is an opportunity to learn more about the role faith-based organizations can play in community development, and the social service sector welcomes innovative approaches to reducing the immense pressure on our ability to support people the most vulnerable.

Like a pebble dropped into a pond, unique partnerships between faith-based organizations and traditional community service partners can create ripples that will turn into waves and inspire others to come together and devote new resources to building social infrastructure. and essential health and social services when our communities need them most.

Abidjan is Director of Capacity Building for United Way East Ontario.

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