[Hpn] Vancouver, BC, Canada - The homeless you have with you always . . .Canadian Christianity - November 27, 2003
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Sun, 30 Nov 2003 16:19:23 -0500
The homeless you have with you always . . .
CanadianChristianity.com Part I - a special
three-part series on various approaches
evangelicals are taking to the issue of
By David F. Dawes - Canadian Christianity - November 27, 2003
Vancouver, BC, Canada - THE HOMELESS are everywhere
these days, it seems, and some Christians are
vigorously grappling with the phenomenon.
In the eyes of some, the problem was worsened by the B.C.
government's November 13 announcement that it will be shutting
down 26 welfare offices across the province.
The reason given was that the welfare caseload has dropped by
80,000. Anti-poverty groups are concerned that the cuts will
cause more hardship for the homeless.
"The effect of the cutback of staff will be an immediate
reduction of service," says Robert Kissner, president of the
B.C. Association of Social Workers, and a member of West
Vancouver Baptist Church. "People will be delayed in being
served, and these are people who cannot literally afford a
delay. So they will be hurt."
Loren Balisky, an evangelical who works with the Salsbury
Community Society to provide temporary housing for people in
transition, points out that people seeking welfare already wait
anywhere from three to five weeks to receive help; he emphasizes
that "they are homeless for all those weeks."
He says the proposed closures "will put extra demand on
those offices that remain," potentially keeping these people
homeless for longer periods.
"If there are 80,000 less welfare cases in B.C., it is because
the B.C. government has ordered the Ministry of Human Resources
to cut its welfare roster in order to reduce the province's
social spending obligations, not because 80,000 people have
suddenly found a way to live independently," says Gordon Wiebe,
an ordained Pentecostal minister who works in Vancouver with
Community Builders, an international organization.
'Reckless and callous'
Terming the government's policies "reckless" and "callous,"
Wiebe is convinced they will "have a tragic effect on
homelessness. To put it bluntly, I believe that the present
government's market idolatry will be responsible for the deaths
of a number of homeless Canadians."
Ruth Wright is senior pastor of First United Church, which works
with the First United Church Social Housing Society. The recent
cutbacks, she believes, "will have a devastating effect on the
homeless. It is currently difficult for the employees working
with them now to cope with the caseloads they have, for the
homeless to travel to appropriate offices . . . and for the
particularities of the needs of the homeless to be addressed in
the short period of time available to workers."
"With the recent changes in welfare," concurs Sister Nancy
Brown, pastoral counsellor at Covenant House Vancouver, "we may
probably witness in the near future greater poverty -- which
could lead to an increase of violence in our society, an
increase in illness due to malnutrition and thus, more
homelessness and crime on our streets."
"We have seen the results of previous cutbacks," says Judy
Graves, coordinator of the low income housing program for the
City of Vancouver. "More people are literally without shelter,
living in the streets. We see aggressive panhandling and theft
by people who are hungry, tired and isolated; filth in streets
and alleys because increasing numbers of homeless cannot access
washrooms; tent cities, and demonstrations; women who had left
the streets returning to prostitution so they can feed their
children. We have every reason to believe that the recent round
of cutbacks will have the same impact."
Unfortunately, the behaviour of a minority of 'squatters' has
possibly hardened some people against the plight of the
homeless. A year ago, a tent city outside the Woodwards building
was dismantled, and the squatters were offered shelter at the
Dominion Hotel. Things went well at first, but some of the new
residents did serious damage to their accommodations -- much to
the consternation of the hotel's owners, Nasser Nabahat and
Claudia Launhardt. Nevertheless, the couple have continued with
their efforts to help low-income people. (CC.com will profile
their recent efforts next week.)
While the Dominion incident dismayed some observers, activists
insist that such things must not cloud our judgment on this
"We have produced a society that has no work for too many
people," asserts Kissner. "Blaming the product of our failure
masks its cause." Regardless of bad behaviour on the part of
some squatters, many evangelicals are showing a continuing
willingness to help them.
"With government cutbacks and offices closing," says Brown, "it
seems as if the responsibility to serve the poor has shifted
totally to the Christian community. There are a variety of ways
that churches are addressing these needs. Some churches have
opened their doors; some have food banks; some provide hot meals
and clothing, while others donate financially."
Some Christians have been slow to respond to poverty-related
issues, dismissing such concerns as 'the social gospel' of
churches which water down the salvation message.
"Historically, all Christian churches have been social gospel
churches," responds Wiebe. "However, since evangelical churches
adopted a premillennial theology in the last century, a
surprising shift has taken place. For the first time in the
history of the church, it has been okay to focus on an escape to
heaven and adopt the thinking that the world is going to hell in
a hand basket."
"The evangelical church concerns itself too much with getting
souls saved and into heaven," agrees Balisky, "and in so doing
has lost touch with its true evangelical roots. Perhaps we
should abandon a good amount of the preaching we hear in our
evangelical churches, and listen to the words of Menno Simons
from 1539: 'The true evangelical faith cannot lie dormant: it
clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the
sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm
it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things
to all men.'" Evangelicals, he concludes, "have radical roots
and a radical calling; the change for good which the evangelical
church could bring to the world might be remarkable."
Annie McKitrick, executive director of Surrey Social Futures,
believes some conservative evangelicals need to re-examine their
"It is not the same-sex marriage bill that threatens the
family," she says. "It is the lack of jobs, the lack of
substance abuse programs . . .
the lack of community support for children and their parents."
Evangelism, she says, must be put into perspective. "Frankly, a
hungry, homeless, addicted person is in no position to make a
decision to follow Christ."
Some evangelicals, says Wright, need to remember that Jesus
"emphasized walking with the poor, widows, orphans, sat with the
distraught, walked with the social outcast, and reminded all
that economic prosperity is given as a means of helping the poor
-- not as an indication of 'just desserts.'"
"There are many evangelical Christians who have a real heart for
people," says Kissner. "One can be critical of those
evangelicals who wed their religious faith to a conservative
ideology. If we understand and apply the whole scripture -- and
what God has taught us of how to respond to the poor -- then
compassionate conservatism evaporates. Ideas that sound good
melt in the light of the harsh reality of the poor. I would
encourage anyone who thinks that all the poor lack is effort and
will to spend a day with someone who is poor. They will find out
that effort is tied in large part to the resources that each of
Evangelicals are increasingly confronting these concerns.
"Poverty and homelessness are complex issues that defy a single,
simple solution. Families or individuals of any age can become
poor or homeless, temporarily or permanently, for a variety of
reasons." says a statement issued by the Evangelical Fellowship
of Canada, which recently appointed a new committee focused on
While groups such as Union Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army
are widely respected for their work with the poor, mainstream
churches are becoming more involved in providing direct help to
the homeless. A key part of this movement is strategy.
Reach Out 2003, subtitled 'Poverty: From Charity to Justice,'
was held at Shaughnessy Heights United Church in Vancouver
November 14 -15. Keynote speaker Ross Olivier, general secretary
of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, drew upon Acts
3:1-10 in his presentation.
"We are told of a person utterly disempowered . . . reduced to
beggary, stripped of his dignity -- living a dehumanizing
existence, descriptive of all people who have been marginalized,
caught up in the cycle of poverty." The beggar, he said, was
"placed just outside the church door, at the 'Beautiful Gate.'
He's not inside; he doesn't get to be part of us . . .
How is it that we in the church are so blind to the need on our
Like Peter, he said, "the God whom we follow causes us to give
this response: 'Such as I have, I give.'" He then said
Christians need to develop "a movement which fundamentally
alters the circumstances of people who need it most."
Some churches are doing just that, through alliances with
non-Christian initiatives. In New Westminster, according to
activist Rhoda Kaellis, the need for affordable housing is being
addressed by asking churches "to explore the possibilities of
the use of church property . . . as the base for non-market
housing, along with partnering with social organizations,
government funders, foundation and private funders, and
Some evangelical churches are also taking direct action. "In
Vancouver," says Wiebe, "the First Baptist Church and the
Grandview Calvary Baptist Church have opened their doors once a
week to offer their neighbours a good meal and a place to
Dan Nicholson, a pastor at Johnston Heights Church in Surrey,
says God "has been raising our awareness of the social needs of
the city, and challenging us to step up and be involved in a
more proactive way."
He has worked with Surrey's Extreme Weather Homelessness Task
Force, and his church is coordinating with St. Helen's Anglican
Church and People's Full Gospel to provide facilities for the
homeless when the weather gets particularly harsh.
Another form of help is being offered by the Gather and Give
Charitable Foundation, which is financed by a member of
Granville Chapel. "There are many fantastic organizations in the
Lower Mainland that are doing a great job," says executive
director Jennifer Legare, "so rather than start something
similar, our goal is to find out what services could make their
jobs a little easier and make that happen." Her group picks up
and re-distributes supplies for various groups.
"The issue of poverty does not have easy answers," says Legare.
"But as children of God, we are called to look after those in
God's family. Even if financial aid is something you are unable
to offer, volunteer service and prayer are just as integral to
"Advent and Christmas are a good time to reflect on
homelessness, poverty, and the people who need our care," says
Graves, who attends St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church.
"At Christmas we remember that we dreamed that our Saviour would
be a powerful king who would rescue us from adversity. Instead,
God gave us a baby who needed care, whose family fled as
refugees to save his life."
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ŠTHE HOMELESS NEWS - H.C. Covington, Editor http://tinyurl.com/2yg2