Last week Delegates to the 2013 Joint Assembly of the Anglican Church of Canada and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada approved a statement calling both churches to greater accountability in addressing homelessness, affordable housing, and responsible resource extraction. You can read a copy of the statement here
Homelessness and affordable housing is a subject that is close to my heart. Five years ago my family was facing the spectre of homelessness. We had been forced out of our home, had no place to go, and very little income. In my town even a small basement apartment costs just under a $1000 a month. We couldn’t afford it. There are no words adequate enough to express the fear and worry that gripped my heart at that time. I give thanks to God for the generosity of a local doctor who provided us with a house for eight months. After that I lived for a while in a substandard housing, with stained flooring, leaking windows, black mold, rotting bathroom floors and a refrigerator that did not work. I was one of the “working poor” and simply couldn’t afford anything else. It was dreadful and had a very negative impact on both my physical and emotional health. I wasn’t alone. There are hundreds of thousands of people across Canada who do not have a healthy place to live. People just like me
The Christian faith calls us to meaningful action as well as belief. In Isaiah we read that a lifestyle of justice and compassion is so important that it is considered by God to be at the very heart of worship. (Isaiah 58:6-7). I am grateful to the joint assembly for focusing our attention on homelessness and substandard housing and calling us to act. The question is what will we do about it? Will this just be a fervent declaration that allows us feel good about ourselves, or will it motivate us to do something? Will we get out of our pews and work together to address these issues, or will this declaration just be empty noise? We have been challenged to learn, raise awareness, act, advocate, and pray together. That sounds like Christian Education to me!
Perhaps the first step is to figure out how we are going to learn and raise awareness. The next step is to figure out what actions will come from this knowledge. As we do this we may face some difficult questions. We might be called to change our attitudes, or take a stand that is uncomfortable. To get the conversation started I have posed some questions about homelessness and affordable housing.
1. We have committed “to learn about the issues that contribute to poverty, homelessness, and substandard housing and to raise awareness within our communities of the challenges and the potential engagement in supporting initiatives to address these challenges.”
- What does your congregation know about these issues in your community?
- How will you find out more?
- Who will you ask?
- What questions will you ask?
- How can you bring this information back to your congregation?
- How can you raise awareness in the wider community?
2. We have committed “to act by nurturing and supporting our own networks of agencies and programs with and for the homeless, the under housed, and refugees”
- As a congregation do you know what agencies and programs your diocese supports?
- Is your congregation nurturing and supporting them?
- If not why not?
- How might you support them?
3. We have committed to act by exploring new models and working with partners, on innovative approaches to address poverty and homelessness
- Does your congregation know what agencies and programs there are in your community?
- Are you partnering with them?
- If not why not?
- How could you do more?
4. We have committed “to advocate for renewed Federal funding, an integrated national collaborative strategy, and greater accountability on the part of provinces and municipalities in addressing underlying causes of homelessness and in providing opportunities for affordable housing”
- As a congregation how will you do this?
- How could your congregation promote a letter writing campaign?
- How could you provide sample letters that people might use when they write to federal and provincial parliamentary representatives?
- Who from your congregation will make a presentation on this issue to your municipality?
- Who will help prepare a presentation?
- What other agencies in your community might partner with you as you do this?
5. We have committed to pray for safe, affordable and adequate housing for all.
- How will you remind people to pray?
- How will you include these prayers in your services each week?
Homelessness is an issue that all ages can address. One of my heroes is a young woman from Winnipeg. At the age of five Hannah Smith saw a homeless person eating food out of a garbage can. A short while later she saw another homeless person wandering in the streets carrying all their belongings in a grocery cart. Hannah talked to her mom a lot about what she had seen (she learned) and decided to act. She went to her teacher and asked if they could raise money to help those who had no home. That was the beginning of something amazing. By the age of eight Hannah had founded the Ladybug Foundation to advocate, raise awareness, and organize fundraisers.
The Ladybug foundation has also produced a multimedia K-12 resource to help teachers empower young people to get involved and make change in their community and in their world! Is this something we could use in our churches?
Hannah’s story is amazing, but she didn’t do it by herself. She accomplished all this in the context of a very supportive community. Surely as a church we can do the same.