One of the greatest successes in helping the people who struggle the most in the capital region is a non-governmental social program. The program itself is its own success story, as it operates as an interfaith collaboration of Muslim organizations, the Jewish community, the Mustard Seed, the Mennonite Church, and many others. The Northside Emergency Warming Shelter at the Al Rashid Mosque is just one extension of this program that aims to work at larger issues in the area by helping people with major struggles while still treating them with compassion and constructive care.
It is a team effort that could not happen without all of those collaborators, explains Salwa Kadri, the office manager at the Al Rashid Mosque.
“We are not a social agency, and the amount of work that we deal with forced us to open up a social agency. We call it the EIRC: the Edmonton Islamic Resource Centre,” she said.
The centre arose in response to a deluge of requests from other organizations that work with vulnerable and marginalized populations. They receive funding to work with those people, but sometimes it's difficult for them to achieve the response from those who need it. The mosque, in turn, gets a lot of requests for help, including from people fleeing domestic violence. It didn’t always have the infrastructure and the programming to assist.
Putting the two together would help bridge an important gap in providing social services in the community.
“We have come a long way to make people feel comfortable, but social issues like homelessness, the domestic violence … these social issues — that are local — are new to us. The amount of cases that are coming in. It's overwhelming now. We were forced to open up Edmonton Islamic Resource Centre.”
Running on donations and with qualified volunteers, the centre is a secret success that tells a larger story about homelessness and mental health and communities coming together to help those who are already doing this hard work all year long, Kadri wants this emergency shelter to bring more awareness to the right places that deal day in and day out with vulnerable populations, she explained.
She related an anecdote about three individuals who "graduated" to show how effective the program can be.
"There was one gentleman that just got out of jail. He didn't know where to go, because he couldn't go back to the environment he came from," she began. "He actually found a lot of peace here. He got into a healing centre; found a job."
Due to a scheduling conflict between the hours of operation of the EIRC and the healing centre, the individual would have been out of luck for rooming for a night or two. Kadri said there was some money in the budget to put him up at the YMCA, but, for a touch of grace and serendipity, one of the centre's volunteers "adopted him."
Another individual was also marginalized due to a severe illness. He just needed a place to sort things out for himself," she added. "These guys are not intoxicated. They're not. They were just people that didn't have anywhere to go, and they needed a place to figure it out. I'm not saying that the other shelters don't figure it out. I'm just saying they're exhausted. We have a lot of work to do."
The side benefit is that it's also a boon to those offering the services. One volunteer had this to say of becoming involved in the EIRC and its work: "I found my thing. I found what I want to do in life. I want to help these people."