Room for change: The Champion’s Centre’s Progressive Approach to Alberta’s Homelessness Crisis.

Book by Rush, Halbauer & Hopchin, The Champion’s Centre, 2006.

I’ve always admired people who aren’t afraid of dreaming big, and Klaas Klooster fits that profile well. Recognizing the need for long-term housing solutions for those who are chronically without a home, especially those suffering from mental illnesses, Klooster dreamt of The Champion’s Centre. Room for change recounts the journey of bringing that dream to reality, and it is an inspiring and eye-opening tale.

The Champion’s Centre was founded in Ponoka in 2002. It “combines ecologically and financially valid concepts of compressed housing for the disabled, those that are homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.” The Centre houses over a dozen men in individual units, and provides them with services such as a hot meal, cleaning, and personal encouragement. The Centre also incorporates small businesses into its premises; this model provides funding for the organization and gives part-time work opportunities to residents who are capable of taking on the responsibility.

A second Champion’s Centre was founded in Medicine Hat in 2006. Since this book was published a location was opened in Brooks and plans for an Edmonton Centre have been set in motion.

The Champion’s Centre model is unique with respect to other group homes. The Centre receives some of its funding from the government and other community organizations, but it also generates its own support through its on-site businesses. As a result, tenants are able to live for substantially less than if they maintained an independent residence.

This book is an engaging read, providing narrative accounts from staff, volunteers and residents at The Champion’s Centre, as well as from staff at other temporary shelters. They discuss some of the obstacles and rewards they meet in their day-to-day work, and they reflect on the necessity of having many types of people involved in this kind of project. While visionaries like Klaas Klooster provide a dream for new initiatives, others bring forward practical know-how related to maintenance and support raising. Klooster reflects on the value of having community support for a project like this and relays some advice on how to garner it.

The book also provides a discussion of the ties between homelessness and mental illness, giving a brief summary of several of the mental illnesses that contribute to homelessness. The point is made that “while humanity may still lack the power to eradicate mental illness, it certainly has the power to eradicate homelessness.” The Champion’s Centre has focused on providing housing for those with mental illnesses because of the high prevalence of mental illness among people who are without a home.

Read this book if you work with the homeless or recently housed; if you are interested in the link between mental health and housing; if you need inspiration for bringing your dreams to fruition.

Visit The Champion’s Centre website
Review by Jennifer Hoyer

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