The “Downtown Churches for Social Justice in Penticton” have been active in our community for many years. We originally started an outreach ministry to educate our- selves about what was going on in our community, as well as to see what we could become involved with.
In the past, we have partnered on projects such as the formation of 100 Homes Penticton, a collaborative initiative to find housing solutions for 100 vulnerable individuals. We have also been instrumental in connecting different resources in our community with like-minded people and man- aged to place 130 individuals into housing. We have had City Hall people attend our meetings and others from interested churches as well as some from the broader community.
Over the past few months, we have actively worked with “100 More Homes Penticton,” which is the name of the next phase of 100 Homes, as well as partner with OneSky Community Resources, the United Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Church of the Nazarene, to maintain a focus on the homeless in our community.
Homelessness and associated social issues are a growing problem in many communities, not only for those who are on the streets, but for some members of the general public who have little empathy and understanding of the complex issues that con- tribute to people not having a home. It’s certainly not as simplistic as the tossed off admonition, just get a job!
The causes can be found in the everyday fabric of life: past abuses of one type or another, mental health problems, substance use, or something traumatic that has happened in their lives such as the loss of a rental or other home; the breakup of a family, or the loss of a job.
As I write this, I realize that any one of these traumas could happen to any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I” comes to mind.
“100 More Homes Penticton” and “OneSky Community Resources,” with the support of the “Downtown Churches for Social Justice,” have launched a program called “South Okanagan Lived Experience” to show- case the lives of a few of our community members. The aim of this initiative is to educate the public about the trauma and stigma some of the people who are living rough outside have suffered.
Recently, with agreement from participants, people were encouraged to tell their personal stories while the video cameras rolled. Three very compelling videos have been released to date, two of which are available to watch on the OneSky Community Resources Facebook page. A further seven to 10 videos will be released over the next few months.
I became very emotional as I viewed the videos — the people telling their stories are no different than you and me, except some event or some thing has caused a catastrophic change in their lives.
Sadly, it’s happening more and more. Many communities in BC are experiencing homelessness issues – from pop-up tent sites to full on encampments and public disorder. Faced with tents on main streets, in beloved community parks and neighbourhood green spaces, community residents are frustrated, fearful and quick to judge.
One of the most challenging problems with the homeless issue is public understanding – the need to help the wider community understand the challenges facing a person living under a local bridge in a tent or in a building doorway under a piece of cardboard. I don’t think there is any intention to treat others badly; I just think people are unsure of how to respond when they encounter a person living outside.
For this reason, “OneSky Community Resources,” in conjunction with the “Downtown Churches for Social Justice” and others have put together 7 ways to support people living unhoused in our City. This invaluable resource can be found on the St Saviour’s Facebook page and will help readers identify simple strategies to support people living outside: Be kind, change your language, donate, educate yourself, demand affordable housing, volunteer etc.
The videos on the “OneSky Community Resources” website can also help with that understanding. If we could come together and have an honest discussion, without any prejudice, with some of those who are experiencing homelessness, maybe we can move our local governments to take this problem more seriously. Maybe homelessness could become a thing of the past.
I know this is a huge hope but human lives are at risk; with the advent of global warming and more severe weather, there are greater dangers to living outside.
It is a human right to have food, clothing and shelter for everyone. If this is not happening, then we must push for it to be at the top of our agenda.
As church communities, let us amplify our voices toward local governments. As Christians, we are told “what you do unto others you do unto me.” Let’s band together with other like-minded agencies to write letters and research and demand local affordable housing for people.
Let’s advocate for more trained people to support those who are experiencing mental illness. Nobody wants a tent city in their community but where are the homes and service supports for the community members who live rough or in tents?
If you were in the same circumstance, where would you go? We are blessed to have food, clothes and lodging, but as we all know, others are not! God calls us to go and make a difference.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ …
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.”
Matthew 25: 35-40