Meeting Minutes - Katie Taylor: Mennonite Circle of Friends - Oct. 4th. 2018
This meeting was opened at 9:55 am by President Martin Alderwick with 33 members present. He welcomed today’s guest presenters, Katie Taylor and friend, “Wayne.”
President Alderwick gave a few introductory remarks on several grand palatial homes which would stand in stark contrast to what we were about to hear from today’s presenter speaking about homelessness.
Announcements Activities – Ray Biffis - The recent past activities at the Grand River Boat cruise and the night at the races went well. - Remembrance Day ceremonies are planned and anyone attending with the Club are invited to provided their names to Gary Repta to indicate whether or not they and their spouse wish to attend lunch at Diana’s Restaurant following the ceremony. - The Christmas Luncheon is scheduled for December 6th. Sign-up sheets are now available in order to get a count on the number attending.
Coffee Club – Andy Curtis - Meets on alternate Thursdays at 10:00 am at the Boathouse until mid-December as well as at the Airpark Café.
Speakers’ Committee – Kerry Gennings - The Speakers’ Committee is negotiating to get Jowi Taylor, curator of the Six-String Nation Guitar, to present to us on May 16th, 2019. In order to minimize his cost to attend from Toronto he would like to find an additional group or club that he could present to on the same date. If anyone knows of a school music or history program that he might present to, please provide a suggestion or a contact to Kerry for a follow-up.
Today’s guest speaker was introduced by David Moller Bio: Katie Taylor lives with her partner, Bronson, and son in Downtown Kitchener. In July 2012, Katie was hired as the Coordinator for the Circle of Friends Program, a collaborative initiative of Mennonite Central Committee and Region of Waterloo that offers informal circles of connection for men, women and families experiencing persistent homelessness and isolation. With an MA in Urban Studies and Community Development and a background of walking alongside those experiencing poverty and homelessness in Toronto, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Kitchener-Waterloo, Katie is passionate about helping individuals discover informal community supports and relationships of mutuality as they transition from homelessness into housing.
Katie Taylor will speak about programs and initiatives implemented by the Circle of Friends Program.
Katie began by providing a bit of background on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). This is a global non-profit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion though relief, development and peace-building. A lot of work is done overseas with partnerships across the globe. In all of their programs they are committed to building relationships with their partners and churches and priorities guide their programs. They strive to make peace, to minimize conflict and disaster, to distribute resources, and to consult with communities to make sure projects meet their needs that will lead to a more peaceful future. Across the globe there are 476 partners and this is a key piece of what MCC does.
Here in Ontario there is also quite a bit of work happening and this work is focused on: - Engagement with agricultural migrant workers - Indigenous communities - Low German newcomers - Material resources - People in poverty - Refugee sponsorships - Restorative justice
Today Katie focused on the People in Poverty Program and the Circle of Friends (COF) Program.
What is good news for the poor? Affordable housing, quality of relationships, wages that sustain dignified life, adequate social assistance, a valued voice in society and much more. Circle of Friends responds to poverty by walking along side marginalized people with compassion and caring. One of the things they do under the People in Poverty program is to advocate for a living wage.
In the 1990’s the Kitchener Women in Crisis shelter was called Mary's Place. It is now called the YWCA emergency shelter. At that time women were starting to more and more cycle in and out of homelessness. Women would come to the shelter, find housing, and then come back into the shelter. This was on the rise and increasing quite significantly. Following a study they found that women were experiencing chronic homelessness because these women were more isolated. Women who were homeless would come to the shelter, then find suitable housing and then experience isolation and loneliness and end up coming back to the shelter because they couldn’t get the support to maintain their housing. The cycle was then repeated over and over again.
The working staff at the center in KW put their heads together to determine how they could bridge this gap and break this cycle. So, they looked to MCC who was already working on a program to work with men who had been offenders and the organization was doing a wrap-around support program for men who were coming out of prison into the community. This group of community activists looked at the program and said: “hey, could we do something like this?” So MCC decided to tackle this issue and take it on for women who were experiencing homelessness. And that’s where it all started. Rather than dealing with only the homelessness they would respond by surrounding that person with friendship so they would recognize that they are not alone and isolated but can stay connected to other people in the community.
In 2012 the partnership was originally between MCC and the YWCA and they were only working with women who had transitioned from the shelter. At this time the workers at the Charles Street Men’s Shelter inquired about starting a Circle of Friends for men who were going into housing. Since the Kitchener “out-of-the-cold” program was closing, the Region inquired as to whether a similar program could be started for men if the MCC was given some additional funding. So, in 2014 Circle of Friends expanded to include men.
Circle of Friends matches one man, woman or family experiencing persistent homelessness with two or three volunteers from the community plus one staff facilitator in the mix. Circles basically walk with individuals as they make the transition from homelessness into housing. They meet on a weekly basis in an informal grouping and setting such as a coffee shop, a pool room, at the mall, trampoline parks, etcetera and they do various activities together. Each circle can be quite different but the focus is on friendship and connection and building trusting relationships in order to make that participant feel welcome and connected in the community.
A recent study assessing community integration with the various groups has shown a pattern has emerged from the conversations with participants and outreach workers in the community. The pattern shows that it’s actually important for people experiencing homelessness to participate in community. This helps them develop their own self-esteem. This also helps them develop more personal skills so they can integrate more fully in the community.
There is a feedback loop that is a significant piece of housing stability.
What is important in Circle of Friends is just being there with folks. What people who have experienced homelessness feel they have gone through a trauma. Counselling and support encourages people to take those healthy steps in order to maintain housing stability and to become more connected to the community and to feeling a sense of belonging to the community.
There is a participant Advisory Group comprised of staff and participants who have experienced homelessness who meet regularly to help develop policy.
Following Katie Taylor’s presentation “Wayne,” who was a participant, told his story as a former homeless person. Wayne started with Circle of Friends in 2014 and was the first male participant in the KW Circle of Friends program. This program helped him get established in a home and since then he has been in the Circle of Friends helping other men in similar circumstances. Wayne now volunteers in the “breakfast for learning” program. He stated: “Don’t ever question the value of volunteers.”
Following Wayne’s story Katie responded to questions from the membership.
David Moller thanked Katie Taylor and Wayne for their enlightening presentation.
Martin Alderwick closed the meeting and again thanked Katie and Wayne.