Our Summer Spotlight series highlights some of the Ottawa residents who are striving to build a better community. Today, Brigitte Pellerin speaks with Sahada Alolo.
Sahada Alolo has been manager of community engagement with the Multifaith Housing Initiative for a decade. She also serves as co-chair of the Community Equity Council of the Ottawa Police, co-director for the Ottawa Guiding Council for Mental Health and Addictions, executive member of the African Canadian Association of Ottawa and president of the Ottawa Muslim Women Organization. She holds a master’s degree in human service specializing in nonprofit management and a doctorate in educational leadership.
Q. Tell us a little bit about you. How did you come to live in Ottawa, and what’s keeping you here?
I moved to Ottawa over 20 years ago. I came here because my spouse happened to live here at the time. I have been working in the community ever since. I have made Ottawa my home, made Canada my adopted country. And most importantly, I am raising four boys in the city of Ottawa. I wanted to be part of that society and contribute in many ways to make sure that our society is equitable and respectful of all people, so that my kids can thrive.
Q. Tell us about the work you do with the Multifaith Housing Initiative and the role it plays in our city.
We are an organization that galvanizes the support of faith communities to provide affordable housing. Faith communities come together to say that despite their religious differences, they can unite around one common goal. And in our case it is to provide housing that is affordable for people, regardless of faith, simply based on income.
My role is to engage with faith communities and make sure that we are deepening our relationships and, most importantly, working with the tenants. We go beyond just providing the brick-and-mortar housing, which is very important, but we also build a community where everybody is respected regardless of who they are, who they choose to love, what they choose to believe in, what their skin colour is.
Everybody is loved and we build a respectful community, not just one that is tolerant (I actually hate the word “tolerance”) but a society where people are respectful of differences, and gather around things that bind all of us as human beings instead of focusing on the things that separate and differentiate us from one another.
We invest a lot in community-building. We want to make sure people who come to our housing complex can live there as tenants but that they are part of the community-building efforts as well.
Q. People often face overlapping challenges. How do these affect them in trying to access affordable housing or other basic services?
The Ottawa Guiding Council for Mental Health and Addictions just released a report looking at alternate ways of responding to people when they are in a mental-health and substance-use crisis in our city — non-uniform, non-police approaches that involve community members responding to people in crisis due to mental health and addictions. All of these things intersect with housing in our city.
If you don’t have a roof over over your head, you don’t have an address to apply for a job, a place to have your general well-being needs met, let alone go for training, go to school, all of that. We offer different kinds of programs to build capacities in our tenants so they can improve their general well-being and increase their social capital.
Q. Homelessness was declared an emergency in Ottawa. What can the people reading this do to help everyone in Ottawa have a safe, affordable place to call home?
Housing prices are through the roof. Even people who are working full-time and earning good incomes have difficulty finding housing that is affordable. So for those of us who live in Ottawa and may not be affected by this, we should be alert and aware that our children and generations to come will continue to face that crisis. And with this kind of emergency, we need all hands on deck.
There are different ways to help raise awareness. Write to your elected officials and make housing an election issue — that’s number one. Number two, let’s face it, governments alone will not be able to solve this problem. We need civil society organizations. Unfortunately those are working with limited resources. So if you know organizations that are providing affordable housing, sign up to volunteer, sign up to contribute, sign up to contribute your time, sign up to donate.
Q. When you want to take a break from doing good work for the community, what do you do to relax?
I spend time with my children doing kids’ activities. I also like to dress up and attend fancy events like a gala or a dinner. My alone time is reading.
Q. You have the attention of everyone in Ottawa for one minute. What do you tell them?
The face of Ottawa is changing. It’s becoming very multicultural. Unfortunately, some people don’t feel at home in Ottawa. I’m talking about the Black community. I’m talking about the Indigenous community. I’m talking about the racialized community. I am urging all Ottawa to make this beautiful city a model for other cities to follow.
We need to come together and celebrate our humanity. A lot of polarizing issues exist today. And sometimes it saddens me, because we have the potential as human beings to just love one another, celebrate our differences, and create a society that is equitable for every single one who of us.
(This interview has been lightly edited.)
Do you know an Ottawa resident doing good work under the radar who should get some recognition? You can make a suggestion for our “Summer Spotlight” series by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org