May 5, 2010

INTERFAITH HOUSING CONSULTATION
MAY 5, 2010

MEETING SUMMARY

Archbishop Smith welcomed and thanked everyone for attending. He spoke of his experience as a member of the Edmonton Homeless Commission. He expressed his support for the ambitious goals of Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. Archbishop Smith pointed out the potential contributions that faith communities could make in realizing the goal of ending homelessness in Edmonton. He pointed to a specific role faith communities could play in welcoming homeless persons into local communities and serving as advocates. He also asked if there was interest in a public pastoral statement on homelessness and affordable housing that could be signed by leaders of faith communities in Edmonton.

The DVD, “A Place to Call Home,” summarizing the Homeless Commission’s Year One Report to the Community, was shown. Jay Freeman, the Executive Director of the Edmonton Homeless Commission, spoke of the results of the first year of implementing the 10 Year Plan with its Housing First philosophy He described some clear successes including the securing of 424 homes for 546 people who previously had been homeless. He also spoke of some challenges, including reports of loneliness and social isolation, being experienced by those settling into their new accommodations.

Following these presentations, there was a time of open plenary discussion. Several important points were raised:

a) Affirm that while faith communities are already doing a lot around the issue of homelessness, much more can be done.

b) Some spoke of the importance of supporting those who are at risk of becoming homeless. Specifically, the loss of financial support from the provincial Homeless and Eviction Fund was mentioned.

c) Several addressed the possibility of local faith congregations participating in a “Sponsorship Program” similar to the congregational sponsorships for international refugees settling in Canada. One pastor spoke of being part of a successful program in Denver. Another described the “All Roads Lead Home” project in Calgary.

d) There were voices of support for a faith leaders’ pastoral statement. A question was raised about whether this should be a statement made by institutional leaders of faith organizations (say 20-30) or a statement signed by as many faith representatives as possible (200 plus).

e) One leader of a community agency proposed that faith organizations could support affordable housing initiatives through the contribution of underutilized land, closed church buildings, and the creative leveraging of existing physical and financial assets.

f) One leader of a church social service agency spoke of the experience of a local parish that was in the process of working with a non-profit housing agency for the purpose of welcoming those being placed through Housing First in their local neighbourhood.

g) One leader of a faith-based agency providing direct service to homeless persons in the inner city, spoke of educating volunteers who help serve food with their agency so that they could better address affordable housing discussions in their own local neighbourhoods all across the city. Another leader of an inner city faith-based agency spoke of finding better ways for faith

organizations and congregations outside of the inner city to relate to and support front-line faith agencies. It was also suggested that parishes work together to debunk the myths of homelessness and that there be a sharing of best practices.

h) One representative from an ecumenical social action group spoke of his experience addressing the “NIMBY” issue with a proposed affordable housing project in his community. He spoke of how his pastor was hesitant to speak publicly and take a position in a divisive community debate. Others spoke of the possible ways pastors could be part of these discussions through preaching and education without necessarily taking a clear cut position. There was a general agreement that additional conversations and educational resources were needed for faith leaders addressing local NIMBY issues.

i) There was a suggestion that a homelessness/affordable housing resource booklet or catalogue be produced. Reference was made to a catalogue distributed by a Christian international development agency that listed different types of contributions and actions that individuals and congregations could commit to. Such a local resource book could provide a list of possible actions that individuals and congregations (small and large) could support to engage issues of homelessness and affordable housing in the Edmonton region.

j) Several spoke of the need to expand the conversation and widen the representation present at this initial meeting. The need for aboriginal representation was noted.

The meeting ended with a discussion about next steps. There was a consensus that the group should meet again in early Fall 2010 (likely in September). Next time people should bring friends and colleagues to widen the circle. Preparatory work should be done concerning proposals for specific action initiatives and a pastoral statement on homelessness and affordable housing. Archbishop Smith promised ongoing staff support for this project from the Archdiocesan Social Justice Office. Archbishop Smith thanked everyone for coming and indicated his personal commitment to moving this interfaith housing initiative forward.

Meeting summary prepared by:

Bob McKeon
Office for Social Justice, Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton
8421 – 101 Avenue, Edmonton T6A 0L1
Tel 780-469-1010
ifhi_edm@yahoo.ca

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