Christ Church Cathedral was the setting on March 22 for a presentation on the country’s housing crisis. Those interested attended in person and online to hear Dr. Ryan Weston, lead animator, public witness for social and ecological justice with the Anglican Church of Canada. He titled his talk Hope Amidst Crisis.
But before the lecture date, Ryan had a few days to visit several places in New Brunswick, including some of the higher profile outreach churches and other sites in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton. He also preached at Christ Church Cathedral on March 19.
Referring to the title of his talk, Ryan began by saying, “The main reason for this is that I found myself looking for hope. I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone. We’re in the midst of a severe crisis.”
He started by outlining the housing crisis, noting 235,000 are homeless in Canada, and on any given night 35,000 are sleeping outdoors. That does not include those in shelters, couch surfing, in hospitals, jails and so on. Both Ryan and front-line agencies believe these numbers are grossly conservative.
One of the factors in the housing crisis is rising costs, with many facing reno-victions, where landlords evict to upgrade apartments and then charge far higher rents.
There are 30,000 households in New Brunswick living in unsafe and inadequate housing, he said.
“Many are forced to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, and lately, New Brunswick has seen the highest rent increases in the country,” he said.
Several sectors of the population are particularly affected, including people with addictions and mental health issues, indigenous people, youth aging out of the social care system, people released from incarceration and the 2SLGBTQI population. People in those groups are more likely to suffer assaults, be incarcerated, have negative health outcomes and die young.
Ryan’s area of expertise is in how churches engage in social issues. Like the story of the resurrection, “witnessing the responses of churches gives me hope,” he said. “It’s the best parts of the church. They are working creatively to have a tangible impact.”
He cited the examples he’d seen in the diocese — St. George’s in Moncton, Stone Church and Beacon Cove (formerly Safe Harbour) in Saint John and Christ Church (Parish) Church’s new four-unit housing construction for those in need in Fredericton — calling them “life-changing, and in many cases, life-saving ministries.”
However, the church cannot solve the housing crisis alone.
“We don’t have the capacity, the expertise,” he said. ‘Thankfully, we’re not alone.”
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20, 21
Ryan recounted the first time he encountered the prayer above, about 10 years ago.
“I felt a rush when I heard it,” he said. “It was almost a physical reaction. It says we can all be instruments to offer hope, beyond our wildest dreams.
“It speaks to God’s power working in us, not just me or you, but us. I still feel uplifted when I hear it.”
The second part of the prayer, ‘from generation to generation,’ is a reminder that the work of the kingdom does not begin or end with us.
“We may have to reset the path dozens of times in order to pass this on to the next generation,” he said. “We don’t have to do it all.”
Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, calls homelessness a “policy decision,” said Ryan, adding that “we make choices collectively. Public policy is a reflection of our choices and values. We make choices that do and do not support homelessness.
“We need to make appropriate decisions, and the fact that we haven’t eliminated it is a failure.”
Perhaps without our knowing it, parishes might already have things they can contribute: excess land, existing partnerships to leverage and build on, creative ideas.
Ryan’s best advice for parishes was simple: “Do one thing.”
“It’s important to respect the limits of parishes, but we can probably all do one thing,” he said, adding it could be gathering resources on a bulletin board, establishing relationships with like-minded agencies and asking questions.
“Try one thing, and then one more thing,” he said.
Ryan ended his presentation by taking questions from the audience.
To watch Ryan’s presentation on YouTube, click here.
Dr. Ryan Weston and Archbishop David Edwards at Christ Church Cathedral during the Hope Amidst Crisis presentation.