Faith Community United to Close the Door on Homelessness

A renewed commitment to Edmonton’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness is only meaningful if put into action, Bishop Jane Alexander told an assembly of the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative in November. “This isn’t just a photo-op. If you’re not planning to do something, don’t sign [the Interfaith Statement],” the leader of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton and co-chair of the Mayor’s End Poverty Edmonton Task Force told a gathering of faith leaders, civic officials and community members at Edmonton City Hall.

Five years into “A Place to Call Home” – the civic plan to end homelessness – significant action by organizations like Habitat for Humanity and agencies like Homeward Trust has helped to house more than 3,200 formerly homeless people. Meanwhile, support programs like Welcome Home have worked to partner volunteers with individuals transitioning from homelessness to a home, enabling 84% of those formerly homeless people to retain their housing.
In 2011, 23 religious and spiritual communities signed their names to a call to action to eliminate homelessness, acknowledging such shared values as respect for human dignity and solidarity with those who are poor and vulnerable. They affirmed the importance of inclusive and welcoming communities, while recognizing that safe, stable, and affordable housing is vital to human thriving.
Two years later, the Edmonton Diocese initiated conversations about what supportive, affordable housing might look like in a community like Terwillegar (because there are homeless people in every neighbourhood) and Bishop Jane anticipated great support. Yet, as she recalled before the assembly, the voice of the collective faith community could barely be heard. At a town hall meeting to discuss the Terwillegar proposal in August 2013, she recognized people of many faiths in the crowd of 1,000 faces and wondered: “where are your leaders?”

Results of the latest homeless count, conducted by Homeward Trust Edmonton in October 2014 with the assistance of 300 volunteers and 60 organizations, indicate that the number of people without homes has not increased significantly since 2012. Still, to secure homes for all 2,252 people enumerated (47% of whom identified as Aboriginal) much effort is needed to break down stereotypes about homelessness and encourage a “Yes in My Backyard” (YIMBY) response to affordable housing.

“Action won’t make you popular,” said Bishop Jane. “But as faith leaders we have the unique opportunity to preach, teach and speak about justice, compassion and healing to a cross section of society – to politicians, students, bus drivers, lawyers, even people who are themselves homeless. If we can stand together as leaders and communities, I don’t think there is anything that can stand in our way of ending homelessness.”

Information about the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, including ways for individuals and faith communities to take action, is available at:
http://www.interfaithhousinginitiative.wordpress.com

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