Calgary

Mustard Seed signs new neighbour agreement after years under 'restrictive' rules

Handing out mitts and a warm hot chocolate to a person in need was a no-no for the Mustard Seed because of an agreement they made seven years ago.

In the Beltline, the organisation wasn't allowed to give food or clothes to the needy for 7 years

The Beltline Neighbourhoods Association and the Mustard Seed have entered into a new Good Neighbour Agreement. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Handing out mitts and a warm hot chocolate to a person in need was a no-no for the Mustard Seed because of an agreement they made seven years ago.

According to the document, signed in 2011, the Mustard Seed wasn't allowed to have any sort of lineups in front of their facility. They actually had to limit available spots in the programs they were offering to make sure they were following this rule. 

Other commitments were:

  • No drop-in meals or activities.
  • No emergency shelter services.
  • No more distribution of items.

An 'unfair' agreement

Mustard Seed CEO Steve Wile said that old document really limited how they could help their clients.

"If we followed the letter of what the old Good Neighbour Agreement said we wouldn't be able to hand out clothes, we wouldn't be able to provide food," said Wile. "We wouldn't be able to do very much to support the people that are in need in the downtown."

He said the agreement in place for all those years was actually unfair, and really restrictive — so much so that it wasn't really being followed.

"We always want to be true to the commitments we made, and we recognized we weren't upholding the old agreement," he said.

Mustard Seed CEO Steve Wile said the old agreement limited how the agency can help its clients. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

But after 14 months of negotiating that's all changing, thanks to a newly-signed Good Neighbour Agreement that will take effect immediately.

In the Beltline, there's the Mustard Seed 1010 Centre, a 12-storey building providing housing for low-income residents. And beside it there's the 102 Building, also known as the Downtown Support Centre, another residential centre operating under similar principles — it has services like employment support, food, clothing and lockers. 

So, its presence in the Beltline hasn't been that of a drop-in homeless shelter — but a Good Neighbour Agreement had a lot of limitations with little wiggle room for the organization to adapt to cold weather or emergencies.

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhood Association said the new Good Neighbour Agreement helps formalize a way for the community to deal with any issues and better bring them to the Mustard Seed's attention. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president Peter Oliver said the document was signed while there was a lot of uncertainty about the Mustard Seed, especially as they were building a new affordable housing complex. 

"It was time for a refresh," he said. "This time around we took the approach that there was a lot more we could accomplish working together than working against each other."

With the new agreement, the good neighbour terms are a little more flexible — and, as Oliver said, less adversarial. 

Generally, the Good Neighbour Agreement states that the Mustard Seed in Calgary will be able to offer basic services, support services, housing and housing support along with community engagement and education.

Oliver doesn't think residents will notice much of a difference between how the organization has run in the past and how they will carry on under this agreement — but he says the community is gaining an improved process to deal with complaints or tensions that might come up.

There are some specific guidelines, like under what circumstances the Mustard Seed can hand out clothing, food and water. But, Wile says they are happy with the agreement.

"We feel the new agreement is a very fair and balanced agreement between us and the community," he said. "What it does is it moves it from what we do, to what kind of neighbours we are, which is really what a Good Neighbour Agreement should be about.​"

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