Putting a face to homelessness, giving a voice to the homeless

Inspired by the theme “Together for the love of the world,” members of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are gathered together in Ottawa for worship and decision-making on areas of shared work, including mission and development.

Among the joint work taking place, delegates will be invited to make a joint declaration on two priority social justice issues: affordable housing and responsible resource extraction.

The declaration seeks, “to discern where and how we can make a difference, to act where we can, and to advocate for equitable and innovative approaches to the challenges we share, and to pray for all affected by these issues and those who bear responsibility in addressing them.”

“Putting a Face on Homelessness – Giving a Voice to the Homeless”, a series of stories written by Laurette Glasgow, were presented on the Wednesday night of Joint Assembly. The vignettes portray individuals from various walks of life who experience the hopelessness that results from homelessness or unaffordable housing.

Watch a video of the presentation.

The story of Jennifer revealed how her experience of being homeless was the direct result of living with a mental illness as a middle aged adult. Jennifer, who at one time was a successful engineering graduate, serves as a reminder of one’s vulnerability to such a life-changing diagnosis.

While’s Jennifer’s situation resulted from a medical situation, the second vignette highlighted Pierce, a victim of business restructuring and downsizing. Current economic instability has had a devastating affect on workers and their families, resulting in losses of home and property, and in some cases leading to family breakup.

Youth homelessness is also on the rise. A third vignette featured Ashley, a young teen, who has run away from her troubled home in a small northern town to a larger city in the south. With no skills, education or job, many youth in similar situations are forced to couch-surf or sleep on the streets.

Delegates heard that one in seven users of emergency shelters across Canada are children and a third of Canada’s homeless are youths aged 16-24. Among the “hidden homeless” are those living in cars, motels, and couch-surfing with friends.

In a vignette about “Keeping Up With the Jones,” the rising cost of living that negatively impacts many of today’s families was addressed. Rising costs make it increasingly difficult for families with even two incomes, to afford a medium standard of living, forcing them to live in substandard housing and depend on social welfare to help meet their daily needs.

During the presentation, delegates learned that 1.5 million households in Canada live in “core housing need” – meaning that their housing costs are more than 30% of their total household income. Food banks have seen a dramatic rise in demand and cannot always meet the need.

The elderly fare little better. The last vignette presented to delegates focused on the plight of Louise, an 82 year old woman who, unable to meet her daily living expenses for housing, food and medicine has had to turn to the social system for assistance. With an increased life expectancy, elderly may need to receive more social support than in previous years. The economic crisis has stripped many retirees of their savings, causing them to rely on government support, which, in some cases, may not be immediately available.

Much work has been done so far, advocating for those struggling from issues of homelessness and lack of affordable housing. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church in Canada work in close partnership with Citizens for Public Justice, Dignity for all, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and the Multi-faith Housing Initiative. And there is ongoing work with all levels of government to address the issue of homelessness and affordable housing.

Yet there is still much to do. Homelessness remains a serious concern in Canada and is reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world. At the conclusion of the presentation, delegates were asked to dialogue at their individual tables and submit ideas for future endeavors that will help ease the stresses caused by homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

On Friday, delegates will be invited to take action on the Joint Assembly Declaration.

One Response to “Putting a face to homelessness, giving a voice to the homeless”

  1. Donald Statham July 5, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    We will need to ask government for some support. Our congregation has a small housing corporation that has land and some money for a building but not enough resources to subsidize rents for the people in the most need. That said, I will be taking this material back to our groups for fuel for thought.

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