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Since 1979 • February-March 2024 • Circulation 5000

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The Mustard Seed Central Opens in McCauley

The Mustard Seed Central. Paula E. Kirman

The Mustard Seed and Radius Community Health and Healing received a provincial grant in March of 2023 to provide a unique 24/7 program in a provincially-owned building at 9526 106 Avenue, previously operated by Operation Friendship Seniors Society.   

The Mustard Seed Central, which opened in December, is intended to be a stepping stone to bring those who are unhoused into appropriate housing. A ratio of 1 staff per 8 guests increases successful transitions. Individuals experiencing health issues are supported by nurses and social workers through the main floor’s “Respite to Recovery Program.”   

This required a rezoning application. City Council met on November 6, 2023. Six people spoke against the rezoning application, including McCauley residents and representatives from Chinatown associations. After a lengthy, emotional discussion, Councillor Anne Stevenson crafted a motion that passed: “Any Development Permit for Supportive Housing for the purpose of providing temporary accommodation for persons requiring immediate shelter and assistance shall be temporary and shall expire on July 1, 2025.”

McCauley resident Phil O’Hara spoke against the rezoning. I invited him to comment. He said, “With the opening of the Centre, 88 percent of all the permanent emergency shelter beds in Edmonton are in McCauley. That’s clearly unfair to the residents and businesses in McCauley as well as to the people who use the shelters. In 2019, former Edmonton Journal columnist Elise Stolte characterized the concentration of emergency shelters in McCauley as a ‘shelter ghetto’.” 

He continued, “Given our experience with encampments and the increasing need for affordable housing, we desperately need to rethink the operation and location of emergency shelters. Of course, the best solution is to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing that doesn’t involve staying in an emergency shelter.”

I met with Megan Schuring, the Community Engagement Specialist for The Mustard Seed, to learn how things are unfolding since The Mustard Seed Central opened in December.  

The 40-year-old building came with challenges. There is no elevator, so people with mobility limitations cannot easily access the second and third floors.  

The third floor is for women and has a secure entrance. The narrow rooms have built-in bunk beds. Although a best practice is for women to have a room of their own, this isn’t possible.  

It’s encouraging that couples feel comfortable accessing the 2nd floor cots, removing one barrier for those who don’t want to be separated. People who use drugs walk to the safe consumption site at Radius. 

It’s early days for this new program. Megan said, “Our commitment is to provide quarterly updates to business and community associations.” 

Kate lives in McCauley.

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