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New Tower to Topple Homelessness
In spite of the recession the Mustard Seed Street ministry continues to forge ahead with plans for a $75 million housing complex for the homeless in Calgary.

The current economic recession has slowed down donations to agencies ministering to the poor and needy, but it hasn’t slowed down Pat Nixon.

Pat Nixon is forging ahead with plans for a housing complex for the homeless. Photo courtesy Peter Fleck.

The executive director of the Mustard Seed Street Ministry is forging ahead with plans for a 224-unit housing complex that he hopes will drastically reduce homelessness in this city.

"This is going to be an incredible drug-and-alcohol-free housing project," Nixon enthused. "When people hit the bottom of the bottom, and their life is torn to pieces and they’re saying, ‘Now I need a supportive environment to help me out of this,’ there’s very little for that. This will be designed around rebuilding their lives."

This housing tower is based on a similar project in Portland, Oregon that saw an amazing 70 percent decrease in homelessness over three years.

With construction scheduled to start in March 2010, the current strip mall and Mustard Seed offices located just north of their main building will be razed. Nixon is looking forward to having "his own crane" among the 20 others standing guard over new condo developments that are changing the face of Calgary’s downtown.

In Portland, the down-and-out people who lived in their three housing towers became the "police" for that community by making sure the local park was needle-free and chasing out anyone who was undesirable.

"It will be the same with this tower," Nixon said. "They will add to the safety of the community."

The tower is a daunting $75 million project with Nixon needing to raise $20-30 million in private donations.

"Never do things small," he said with a grin. "This is something I believe God put on our hearts so we’re going to go after it."

But Nixon also has to contend with decreased donations forcing The Mustard Seed to cut $1 million from this year’s budget.

With a hiring freeze in place, they are "challenged to do volunteerism better than before." Nixon explained, "It’s really volunteerism that changes your community and gets the church and community working together."

Nixon added, "I don’t have any intention of slowing this forward motion down. We’ll do all we can to adjust ourselves to the economy, but…we can’t afford to stop because we have such good programs that are working in people’s lives."

…the Dream Centre has an astounding success rate of over 70 percent for men who have completed the program…

The Calgary Dream Centre is not slowing down either. This transitional housing facility is always full, with 125 men enroled and over 50 on the waiting list. Founded six years ago by members of First Assembly, the Dream Centre has an astounding success rate of over 70 percent for men who have completed the program which can take up to three years.

"Who would want to live under a bridge?" asked Executive Director Jim Moore. "Here they have a home, they have food, shelter, clothing and the Spirit in the place is active in their lives."

Although the Dream Centre has seen more reluctance to give financially this year, Moore has noticed that people are opting to volunteer their time instead.

Moore said when the funds don’t come in, the first cuts are always staff. One of their main supporters asked what would happen if they couldn’t fulfill their financial obligations this year. Moore held up the pictures of two staff members and said, "They won’t be here." Thankfully this organization came through with the funds.

With the Radiothon fundraiser coming up on September 17, Moore is hoping more churches will come down for a tour and see the changed lives of these men who were desperate for help.

Even though The Salvation Army is also experiencing a decrease in donations, Dolores Coutts said, "We could manage if we didn’t have so many people coming to us."

The Director of Development explained there has been a 15-20 percent increase in families looking for help. Coutts said if the husband is the only one working and gets laid off they usually need a one-time support of food, baby necessities or emergency funds.

When asked if the Salvation Army would be able to weather this economic storm, Coutts laughed.

"We’ve been here for 165 years, through a couple of World Wars and a Depression," she said. "We’re an organization that’s determined to keep going."

Doris Fleck is a writer based in Calgary.

Originally published in City Light News, July 2009.




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