The Interfaith Alliance to End Homelessness invited Honorable Rich Coleman, BC Minister of Housing and Social Development, to their meeting on June 23 to speak to a broad range of religious leaders and people of various faiths about the Province’s plans to eliminate homelessness. The other guest speaker was Jill Davidson, Assistant Director Housing Policy, City of Vancouver, who spoke about the City’s housing implementation plans.
The meeting was held at Al-Jaima Masjid Mosque, and guests were welcomed by Haroon Kahn. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Nancy Hall. Dr. Hall noted that one of the goals in inviting Minister Rich Coleman was to start to build a relationship between Minister Coleman and the faith leaders that are interested in addressing homelessness, and find ways to work together.
Minister Coleman praised the faith leaders for joining together to address homelessness. He spoke about the investments that the Province has made in eliminating homelessness since he took over the portfolio in 2004. He noted there has been a shift in focus from structures (housing units) to a focus on people, and a recognition that some people will continue to need significant support services to address issues of mental health and/or addictions and remain housed successfully.
Minister Coleman’s presentation was well-received by those in attendance. The provincial approach to addressing homelessness, mental illness and addictions appears to be comprehensive and well thought out. Minister Coleman does admit that there is a lot left to do, and we will continue to have to provide ongoing services to people to prevent homelessness in the future.
Rev. Stephen Epperson did point out that rental subsidies are not sufficient to address the lack of housing for low income households, and more rental units need to be built. Coleman noted that they have been working to convince the federal government to change the tax structure to make investments in building rental property more attractive.
During the question and answer period, the role of faith leaders was discussed.
Ric Matthews (one of the leaders of the Interfaith Alliance to End Homelessness) sees the role of faith communities as:
- Resources (both collectively and on the part of individual members) and partnerships. (Resource examples: Congregations can bring land to the table. Faith leaders can encourage congregation members to provide secondary suites.)
- Include people on the “margins” in our community (It is not just housing, it is being part of a community that is going to help people move forward).
- Holding “robust, meaningful conversations” with our congregations and the wider community in an atmosphere of trust.
Coleman stressed that the Ministry is happy to work with any groups that want to address any one or more of the 6 strategies contained in the Provincial Housing Strategy (Housing Matters) (see http://www.bchousing.org/programs/Housing_Matters_BC/strategy)
Jill Davidson (Acting Director of Housing, City of Vancouver) stated that she sees the role of faith communities as:
- Advocacy (as organizations and as individuals). She noted that the appearance of faith communities at Council meetings to support the HEAT shelters was instrumental in getting them approved. (The Homeless Emergency Action Team was created by City Council to get street homeless into low barrier shelters over the winter.) She advised attendees to tell Council what is working, and what they support. She also recommended they talk to neighbours and friends as housing advocates. She notes that Judy Graves (City of Vancouver Coordinator, Tenant Assistance Program) is happy to come out to talk to people about housing and support needs.
- Services – e.g. provision of food, showers, but also in building community.
- Resources – land and buildings.
The Interfaith Alliance to End Homelessness hopes to have another meeting with Minister Coleman again in the future.
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