YES In My Backyard


– by Jeff Dyer, Former Executive Director at Accessible Housing, 04/13 – 01/17

My friend Jason is a resident at Accessible Housing and says that “people, if given the right support, can do amazing things.” I’ve found this to be true. When people are given the opportunity to be at home, they emerge to dream again, to rise above limitations and conquer barriers previously perceived to be impossible. For Jason his ‘amazing thing’ was to complete a PhD in mathematics and in his words, “if (I) didn’t have the opportunity and support of living (at Accessible), I don’t know where I’d be. I certainly wouldn’t have finished my PhD.” Get that: if he was not welcomed home, he would never have realized his dream. Being at home and belonging in community transforms lives in very practical and powerful ways.

Homes that are full of barriers become traps to those with limited mobility. Some individuals are isolated in their own home, or they are living in an emergency shelter, or they’re recently injured and waiting in a hospital with no place to go. In those situations, the richness of life is stolen with opportunities like education, employment and community engagement virtually closed to them and the ultimate hope of thriving replaced with despair. For each of these Calgarians, the community has the opportunity to welcome them home.

One of the challenges we face in our society is the notion of NIMBYism. That we are ‘fine’ with people with disabilities having affordable housing, just not in my backyard. To open doors that are affordable and accessible in Calgary, organizations like Accessible Housing have to become adept at community engagement to help dissipate fear and dispel myths so that doors widen, the ground is leveled and the right to home is made possible for all. It is work we are willing to do, but we know that it is work aimed at only a few because the majority of us have already opened our minds and hearts to make way for the vulnerable and make space for the marginalized. The vast majority of Calgarians are YIMBY people who would love to welcome Jason, Gail, Bill and many others into their neighbourhoods, inviting them to thrive.

I appreciate that this is somewhat provocative and I offer it with a generous spirit with the hope of initiating dialogue. I would love to hear from the YIMBY among us as to why you choose to make space for the vulnerable and what kind of community you imagine emerging when everyone belongs. Equally, if you find yourself in the NIMBY camp I welcome you to share what you fear. Perhaps we can come to an understanding together about those concerns and either watch them disappear altogether or address them head on. Either way, if we make space for the conversation we will address our city’s most pressing need: housing. And addressing that is really the beginning of a warm “welcome home.”