By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

A Safe Place is now a much more beautiful place, thanks to renovations funded by churches in the Edmonton Capital Region.

The multidenominational No Room in the Inn campaign raised more than $76,000 for the Sherwood Park shelter, which houses women and children fleeing abuse. The renovations and fundraising total were unveiled June 15.

“The campaign helped us do massive renovation of the shelter to bring it to the next century and also to the next 20 years,” said Patricia Vargas, executive director of A Safe Place.

Since 1984, A Safe Place has sheltered more than 17,000 women and children, and the building was in dire need of renovations.

Rooms have been freshly painted. The backyard now has a healing garden and a green space for children to play in, and the kitchen was given a top-to-bottom renovation.

“If we had to raise $76,000 on our own or as individuals that’s a lot of money, but by the force of numbers and by the force of all of our churches working together … it’s amazing that we could raise this kind of awareness and money collectively like that,” said Julien Hammond, chairman of the No Room in the Inn campaign and coordinator of the Archdiocese of Edmonton’s Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

It’s the second-highest fundraising total ever for No Room in the Inn, a campaign that sees churches donate Christmas Eve offerings to support housing for the homeless and marginalized. The money raised was matched by provincial grants.

Vargas said A Safe Place can now focus on much-needed expansion. The shelter housed 359 women and 360 children in the last year, but had to turn away 1,200 families.

 “It’s about safety, about having the basic needs met, and how important that is,” said Vargas.

“No Room in the Inn encompasses that and we at the same time encompass that, and we are ready to receive them. (But) sometimes there’s no room in our inn, and it’s tough.”

Families can stay up to 21 days at A Safe Place, sometimes longer. The shelter provides 24-hour counselling, child care, and meals. There is also a nurse and a trauma specialist for children on site three days per week.

“Our job is to journey with the women, help them navigate the system and move forward to live a life free from violence,” said Vargas.

This is also the first time the No Room in the Inn has supported a charity in Strathcona County since the campaign began in 1999. Nine Strathcona County churches and 44 other churches from the Edmonton region participate in the annual campaign.

“Typically we are in the inner-city, but there are providers of housing for the homeless and the marginalized elsewhere and it’s good to spread it out and recognize them,” said Bill Calder, a No Room in the Inn committee member from Sherwood Park United Church.