by Dale Ladouceur
(ANNews) – When first meeting Marilyn Gladue it is easy to see why she has excelled for so long in an industry that sees high turnover rates averaging only 3.5 years. Marilyn greets you warmly but with an air of experience earned. Her deep alto voice is welcoming and resonates with years of difficult decisions and hard truths. Marilyn has been the Director of Housing for Edmonton and Rural North for Metis Urban Housing Corporation for over ten years but has worked on the front lines of housing our Indigenous people for over a quarter century.
Sitting in her modest office, Marilyn reflects back on the early beginnings of her history with Metis Urban Housing and the families’ lives she has directly impacted. “My first role was as Tenant Relations Officer but after a year I applied for what was then called an Internal Control Clerk.”
Describing the humble beginnings of this fledgling, Indigenous-owned business with their first office space only slightly larger than her current office, Marilyn waxes nostalgic of those formative years. “The Internal Control Clerk position monitored the rural branches. All the paperwork; lease renewals, rent changes, working with the rural staff etc. was done by myself and just one other gal. Just the two of us split the whole portfolio for a few years. I then applied for the Branch Manager position, where I stayed from 1998 to present day” (with the title of Director added in 2017).
As Marilyn spoke, her phone and email notifications chimed constantly, and she kept one eye on those messages while remaining present for my questions. I asked her how she managed to not burn out, staying so long in such a demanding role. She explained the inspiration for her resiliency. “Well, my first thought is; I love, love working with people. For as long as I can remember, a lot of my jobs in my early years had always been as a service provider. I was working in restaurants, with the public all the time. I was always on the front end of (connecting) with the public and I treasure those experiences.
“I treasure my experiences today because they have helped me learn about people and their challenges, their successes and the variety and difference of our people.”
Marilyn exudes passion when she speaks about helping house our people. It’s obvious from listening to her speak that she fervently wants them to succeed. Her enthusiasm and belief in them often ignites a belief in themselves, “and sometimes that’s all a person needs, to believe that they can do it. That they can accomplish anything.”
It sometimes isn’t easy; guiding people through to a more positive outlook of their future. Doing so requires experience, understanding and patience in how to respect someone’s growth process. “Often, my job is dealing with a difficult tenant. I sometimes have to make the decision whether their tenancy is going to continue or whether it is going to end. That is the most difficult aspect of my duties. The other ten percent of my role is what makes me stay: hearing those success stories of people moving on to bigger and better things. The hugs, the tears, the appreciation when they have been given the opportunity to succeed. That’s what’s kept me here this whole time; that’s all it takes.”
Marilyn proceeds to draw from a seemingly endless collection of tenant success stories.
“Seeing the families grow…the little ones now graduating and choosing a career; that fills my heart. I’ve seen positive changes in even the most difficult situations – really positive changes!”
Those changes emanate from the larger picture that Indigenous people have unique needs. Those serving Aboriginal communities must understand where they come from in order to help them survive and thrive.
Throughout her history in the housing industry, Marilyn has helped many thrive because she is from their communities, knows their stories and remembers their faces. She also has a thorough understanding of the impacts of an affordable housing shortage. “The lack of affordable housing in this province is the biggest housing issue facing us. (When a person outside of the Indigenous community), talks about subsidized housing, there needs to be a different view of it.
“We’re not giving needy families a hand-out, we’re giving them a hand-up.”
If you want to learn more about Metis Housing’s programs and services, or to fill out an application for subsidized or affordable housing, go to www.metishousing.ca or call 1-877-458-8684.