Minutes Interfaith Alliance Meeting
January 27, 2010
Unitarian Church, Vancouver
Welcome: Dr. Stephen Epperson welcomed the group to his church. The meeting was hosted as collaboration between the Unitarian Church and End Homeless Now from St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church.
What is happening with regards to the Winter Shelter Program?
The Program began with a presentation from Aaron Munro, the Manager of three winter 2010 Homeless Shelters for Rain City Housing. These three shelters, opened since December, now shelter 120 individuals in three different locations:
- Broadway and Fraser (near Broadway Youth Resource Centre). This shelter as it is a near a French language service agency draws French speaking people.
- Cardero and Alberni. This shelter draws people experiencing homelessness from Stanley Park.
- Granville Bridge. This shelter draws street youth.
Aaron also mentioned a fourth emergency shelter that has been opened on Fourth Avenue near Pine in Kitsilano. This shelter is operated by MPA.
These shelters are temporary and will close on April 30. In the meantime they provide people with a warm place to sleep and two healthy meals a day. He noted how well people do with regular healthy food both in terms of weight, mood and self esteem. Aaron talked about how the shelters had worked to create a community of caring between residents.
There are basic rules for the shelters but each shelter sets its own code of conduct. When the Granville HEAT Shelter was closed down this past fall and about 50 people moved to Dunsmuir house that same supportive community continued. Aaron noted that some of the formerly homeless youth are working in the new shelters as peer support workers. People leaving the street need to be supported to work at the right kind of work.
Aaron encouraged attendees to drop by the shelters and meet the folk. He said it really meant a lot for the people who have been living outside in many cases for many years, to connect with community people and feel welcome as people take their first steps in moving inside. He was hopeful when April 30 came about there would be permanent housing available for these 120 people but not entirely confident that this would be so.
Jonathan Bird from City Gate Leadership Forum gave us a report on a meeting he convened on January 14 to address collaboration among the Christian community for positive social change. Dave Hillis from the Leadership Foundation was the featured speaker.
Leadership Foundations (www.leadershipfoundations.org) is an international network of local faith-based organizations that bring together local faith and community leaders, churches, and social service groups to tackle the most difficult problems facing the city. We work in our city as a team—each leader and group bringing its resources. Successes are shared with leaders and cities in Leadership Foundations’ network. Today, more than 54 cities in the U.S., Africa and Asia have active or developing foundations tackling difficult local problems with the help of 4,400 partners and 12,000 volunteers.
He noted that the faith community makes considerable contributions towards support for people on the margins of society. There might be more effectiveness in coming together around a common issue. The report on this meeting will soon be available through Jonathan.
Reverend Ric Matthews from First United Church Mission commented on Aaron Munro’s presentation. He reminded us that people experiencing homelessness are a complex population and each person has unique needs. He reminded us that a real conversation with people living in shelters is far more important than any sandwiches people might bring. He also reminded us that a shelter bed is not a home.
He also spoke about an upcoming announcement with Mayor Robertson and Chris Shaw who will be speaking at a press conference on Wednesday Feb 3 called “Share the Gold”. The concept is that if three levels of government can come together to create an organization as powerful as VANOC to host the Olympic Games we can use that same leadership approach to end homelessness in Vancouver. Ross Taylor from End Homelessness Now noted that this high level leadership group was what Calgary and the City of Portland had done to get a systematic mobilization organized to end homelessness.
Nancy Hall noted that at the last meeting there was tension among the group members as to whether the focus of this emerging organization should be on individual helping and coordinating those efforts or on macro issues such as getting a city wide plan to end homelessness. Ric will update us on the progress of this initiative at our next meeting.
Most people in attendance tonight were coming to the group for the first time. Some had been represented by other members of their congregation at previous meetings. Different people came to the meeting with different interests. Some in our community are learning about the complexity of homelessness and want to expand their network, others have been working in the trenches for years and would welcome support, and still others are engaged in lively conversations with their congregations on taking action to end homelessness. In particular, the Unitarian Church is working to organize a letter writing campaign for a National Housing Strategy.
It was noted that the membership of this meeting was different than the previous meeting and different yet again from the meeting that the Mayor convened at City Hall. Nancy noted that this shifting membership is characteristic of a newly forming group especially among people who are already very committed to what they are doing. Regrets were received from Rabbi Breggman and Rev Patterson who were attending the opening of a new Interfaith Centre at UBC this evening. Still, more work has to be done to grow the interfaith aspect of our collaboration.
Don Evans from First United Church Mission also commented that the End Homelessness Now group was keeping the Mayor’s office and City Hall staff informed of what we are doing by providing reports. End Homeless Now volunteers are planning a face to face meeting with the Mayor for March.
Haroon Khan from Al Jamia Musjid Mosque urged us to take action to end homelessness.
Summary of Discussion Points
- National Housing Policy. A number of people raised the fact that one thing the Alliance could do is focus on lobbying for a national housing strategy. This could involve letter writing by the congregation and individual lobbying.
- The Question of Focus. People felt there was a need to consider if the focus on the Interfaith Alliance should be on Homelessness or on the broader social justice agenda that includes poverty, anti racism, etc. Rev. Kevin Dixon from St. Mary’s Anglican Church noted we needed rallying points and ways to measure results. Wendy Stephenson noted that the End Homelessness Now group had targeted education of the public as a major goal and toward that end had engaged several thousand Vancouver community members in education around strategies to end homelessness. They had also managed to partner with First United Church Mission and Cottage Farm (a youth mental health treatment centre being planned for the Sunshine Coast) in fundraising efforts that total over $30,000. Having set a goal with outcomes, enabled the group to move forward with strength.
- What other Alliances exist? There is a need to explore the other Alliances to ensure that there is a unique need for an Interfaith Alliance. Nancy suggested a panel on this at the next meeting to include representatives from the Regional Steering Committee to End Homelessness, the StreetoHome Foundation and the Greater Vancouver Alliance (mentioned by Father Ken Korster from Sacred Heart Catholic Church). As people gave good feedback about the speaker aspect of our program, we agreed to feature this as a learning opportunity for our next meeting.
1. What writing in our Creed drives us as individuals to be interested in homelessness? Dr. Rev. Stephen Epperson from the Unitarian Church urged us to provide from each of our perspectives, the verses of scripture or writings from the Koran and other faiths that inspire our participation. Nancy Hall offered that if people emailed End Homelessness Now Web Site (contact us: http://endhomelessnessnow.ca/) she would ask Otto Toews, our Webmaster, to help set up a focal point for this discussion. Dr. Rev. Steven Epperson suggested that we might begin each of our meetings with someone giving a reading from their faith perspective.
- Action: Email what verses inspire you from your faith to want to address homelessness to http://endhomelessnessnow.ca . Click on Contact us and we will create a space for this information.
2. Ric’s List: In addressing the group’s tension between going ahead focusing on individual helping or systems wide change, Rev Matthews summarized the need to go forwards with “both and “ perspective including:
- Create an Alliance to build relationships with one another. We need to move to communicate and then we can coordinate and collaborate on joint endeavors
- Respond to the immediate need for shelter and support in our City
- Create a leadership group to ask for a responsive collaboration involving the community, the City, the Province and the federal government.
- Focus on achieving results in the Core Issues of: homelessness, mental illness and poverty.
- i. Action: End Homelessness Now to explore a way to create a data base on who is doing what to address homelessness and housing affordability. For the interim a contact list of people who attended these meetings will be prepared.
3. Strategic planning. Nancy indicated that although she didn’t want to ask busy people to donate an extended period of time, the group could benefit from a strategy session. Penny Rogers, Stephen Epperson, Ken Horster, Ross Taylor, Kevin Dixon, Anita Kilberg, Don Evans, David Haywood and Wendy Stephenson volunteered to be a part of this group. A note offering an invitation to participate will be sent to the larger group who has been a part of these meetings and End Homeless Now will work to recruit diverse participation.
- i. Action: Strategic planning group to meet within the month
We finished on time and Nancy thanked everyone for their participation. Dr. Rev. Epperson graciously offered the space of the Unitarian Church again for any meeting space we might require. Don Evans mentioned that there had been conversations about hosting a meeting with Temple Shalom. The intent is to develop a sense of inter faith connectedness by visiting each other’s community and worship space.
Dates for Next Meetings
- Strategic Planning Group Saturday March 6 at St Andrews Wesley (we will arrange free parking underneath the church) 9:30 to 1pm.
- Whole Group Thursday March 12 at Temple Shalom 7190 Oak Street. Rabbi Bregman to host.
6:30 Coffee; Meeting 7-9pm.