Recent Canadian statistics reveal that as many as half of first nations children and about a third of immigrant children live below the poverty line. How is it possible that in Canada there are people who lack the fundamental basics like food, shelter and safety?
The problems are complex and issues include policies around social planning, education, healthcare and housing. Surely managing the crisis is not the best we can do. We must find long-term solutions to alleviate the problems.
Throughout Scripture there is a thread of God’s concern and care for the widows, orphans and foreigners. Poverty and justice issues are mentioned more than two thousand times in the Bible. God directs Jeremiah (22:1-10) to tell the king that his leadership and the country’s existence depend on how they treat the poor; failure to care for the poor is breaking covenant with God and a rejection of their faith. In Matthew 25, Jesus picks up on this theme, reminding us that our end is determined by how we treat the marginalized. James 1:27 states that true faith is caring for the poor.
Housing is one of the critical issues. At least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness every year. Our response in the past has been to provide more shelter beds, increase access and build bigger food banks. We must move away from managing the issues to providing long-term change. This requires a shift in how we think about the issues and who is responsible.
Chiara House is a collaborative initiative that illustrates how various partners can work towards a creative solution. It is a 10-suite apartment building being renovated to provide a supportive community for some people who could be at risk of homelessness. The partnership includes Mennonite Church Manitoba, Little Flowers Community, Eden Health Care Services and a not-for-profit company providing professional, strategic and financial support for the project.
More than 15 different congregations have provided funds and volunteers for the project, investing more than two thousand hours there in 2012. Businesses have donated goods, services and skilled help worth nearly $100,000. More volunteers and donations are still needed, but participation is already changing the conversation for many people.
Other MC Manitoba congregations are exploring how they can respond to the need for affordable, safe and dignified housing. We need congregations to call on their best creative thinkers to envision new realities. Entrepreneurs are needed to bring together economic and human resources to make those visions a reality. The support congregations can offer is one of our greatest assets because it is in healthy community that we thrive.
Homelessness is at the heart of what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God. Jeremiah’s challenge still calls us to respond to these issues. Unless we help find just solutions, our faith is in jeopardy.
Norm Voth is director of Mennonite Church Manitoba’s evangelism and service ministries.