Our National Church, the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario and our own Diocese identifies addressing homelessness and affordable housing as a priority for the church. As of our Synod 2014, the Diocese of Ottawa established the goal to create 125 new housing units by 2021(the 125th Anniversary of the Diocese of Ottawa). Every parish was challenged to pray, learn, advocate and act.
Educational resources provided us with background material to help us understand the breadth of the issue. “Communities across the province of Ontario are experiencing a significant crisis of homelessness and housing affordability that increases marginalization and social isolation for many of our most vulnerable citizens. This crisis affects communities large and small, urban, suburban, rural and Indigenous. This crisis has been identified as a priority area for action by the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, in line with the 2013 Joint Assembly Declaration calling on Anglicans to learn about issues of poverty and homelessness, advocate for government action, and pray for “safe, affordable, and adequate housing for all.”
As the Policy Paper described, “Housing people makes sound economic sense as homelessness and precarious housing have significant fiscal impacts in the increased costs imposed on health care, social services and the justice system. Equally important are the human costs of homelessness such as the loss of dignity, isolation and death. Certain populations experience disproportionately high levels of inadequate housing, including Indigenous and racialized communities, newcomers to Canada, large families, seniors, youth, and people living with physical disabilities and mental illness or addictions, and displaced workers.”
So that’s the reality. 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night; over 10 thousand in Ottawa alone. “And Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew ch 8) And from 1 John ch. 3, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
How has St. Helen’s engaged with this call, to date? We have always fully supported the Community Ministries of the Diocese, with volunteers, outreach collections, response to special needs and financial commitment. When the first venue of Cornerstone opened, we were, under the leadership of Debbie Tweedle, privileged to fully furnish a room. Then last year (2018) beginning on April 22, Homelessness Sunday (Good Shepherd Sunday) we began the “Blue Door” initiative, which invited parishioners to ‘paint the door’ with twoonies, the resulting donation to be given to the new Cornerstone project on Princeton St. In March 2019 we were invited to visit the new home and attend the Donor Wall Unveiling, the Wall plaque listing St. Helen’s Anglican Church, Orleans, as a donor.
Certainly, there is more to learn and there is the need for prayer, for all those impacted and for guidance to make changes. There is always the need for financial investment, and there’s vision. The vision of the church includes, but is not limited to, a comprehensive plan, continued development of support systems (health, social, practical, emotional, spiritual), collaboration with federal and municipal programs, and provision and backing for emergency shelters. Kingdom work continues…