Ambrose Place in McCauley gives Edmonton homeless hope

The facility is named in memory of Ambrose Daniels, who became sick and died on the streets because he had nowhere to go.

Inner-city facility now houses 42 aboriginal people with disabilities or addictions

Ambrose Place in McCauley is seen as a success story for rehabilitation. (CBC)

After 11 years of planning, court challenges and construction, Ambrose Place officially opened Thursday in Edmonton’s McCauley neighbourhood.

The inner-city facility now houses 42 aboriginal people with disabilities or chronic substance abuse problems. All of them were once homeless.

The home is the brainchild of social worker Faye Dewar.

As an outreach worker in the Boyle McCauley area, she saw one of the main challenges of her work came when people coming off the street moved into apartments.

Named for Ambrose Daniels

She says they often got kicked out soon after, due to excessive drinking, socializing or poor financial budgeting.

The facility is named in memory of Ambrose Daniels, one of Dewar’s former clients, who became sick and died on the streets because he had nowhere to go.

Carola Cunningham outside Ambrose Place.
Tired of watching homeless clients die, she pitched the idea to Niginan Housing Ventures, a non-profit that specializes in Indigenous housing. The group agreed to build Ambrose Place.

“I know that you can never give up on human beings,” said Carola Cunningham, Niginan’s executive director. “Everybody has the ability to change if they feel loved”,

Ambrose Place is designed to do that.

The building has affordable housing units on top, along with supportive housing on the second and third floors for people who are still dealing with addictions or are recently sober.

Cunningham says that kind of set-up is rare.

“The people living in affordable, the majority are working in a recovery form. Sober and working towards a better life for themselves”, she said.

“We all work together here. We all support one another, and the ones on the top level support the ones below, because some of them have come from there and worked their way up naturally too.”

Cunningham said the goal of Ambrose Place is to build community, something those coming off the streets often lack, especially indigenous people.

“For so many years … the whole process of assimilation has been done through a shaming way. And when you shame a people, their hearts are on the ground. And the only way to lift people's hearts back up is to have them reclaim who they are.”

For that reason, Ambrose Place has an elder on-site two and a half days a week.

There’s also a ceremonial room designed to look like a teepee, where residents can go to smudge any time they want.

“It's so hard for urban indigenous people to get to ceremonies, unless they have a car or they're connected”, Cunningham said. “We're doing it a little differently, we're bringing the ceremonies here, so they can participate.

For all the years I've worked with people, I know that when an indigenous person finally says, ‘I'm not ashamed to be who I am, I know who I am, and I'm proud of who I am,’ life changes.”

Not in My Backyard

Ambrose Place has faced its share of challenges over the years from the surrounding neighbourhood.

Just as construction was getting underway in 2012, an Alberta Court of Appeal overruled the City of Edmonton in a dispute with the McCauley Community League.

That forced an extended halt to the project.

Rob Stack, who was community league president at the time, thought the ruling would send an important message to other agencies looking to locate social housing in the community.

The Thunderbird Partnership Foundation believes traditional First Nations and Inuit culture is an integral part of a holistic approach to wellness. (CBC News)
"If what you're looking for is the path of least resistance, it's not us anymore," he said.

Ambrose Place was the third social housing project the community took to court, saying it believed there was an unfair concentration of supportive housing projects in the McCauley neighbourhood, caused by irresponsible planning by the city.

Home Finds a Place for Everyone

Paul Kailek is one of the many formerly homeless residents who’s now found a home at Ambrose Place.

An elderly man in a wheelchair with scabs on his face, he’s clearly had a hard life.

He said he lived on the street for two years before finding space at the facility.

“Thing I like about this place is that the medical staff help me, I have the freedom to come and go, but most of all, it's staff that keep me together”, he said.

“They are the kindest people I've been with. And they help you with little things. If I can't make it down for a meal, they'll bring it up to me."

Staff at Ambrose Place work with Kailek and other residents to help get them clean and sober - but it doesn’t happen all at once.

Alcohol is dispensed much like medication. For example, someone could potentially be given three beers in four hours.

While many residents coming off the streets try to cut back on their drinking,

Cunningham admits not everyone transitions smoothly from life on the street.

She remembers a young man who was charged after he punched a nurse at Ambrose Place in the head and gave her a concussion.

While that may seem disheartening, staff won’t give up on anyone who lives there.

“Yeah, maybe I have some chronic drinkers here,” Cunningham said. “I never give up on them. I always have hope that they have a better life every day. If that means drinking a little bit less, that's a good thing.”

The approach seems to be resonating with clients.

Ambrose Place opened at the end of November and by mid-February it was full. There are now more than 100 people on the waiting list for a space.



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