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Finding Home and Facing Homelessness

When we meet someone for the first time, we often identify ourselves by our name and where we come from. Over the years I have reflected on this simple yet profound question: “Where is home?” This is a challenging question for me since I have experienced a very transitional childhood and adult life where I have moved to many different places and lived in communities with many different people.

What makes a home for people? For many, home is a physical place where they were born and grew up, or a place where they have lived and made memories. For others, home is a part of the natural world where they feel connected to the wonder and beauty of trees, water, and mountains. Poet Mary Oliver finds her home in nature and among the hummingbirds, owls, and motionless ponds. In Oliver’s poem “Coming Home,” she guides us home through “the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless fields of the sea.”

For some, home is made up of people who love and care for them—home is where they feel a sense of belonging in community. In “The Death of the Hired Man,” author Robert Frost writes that “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” We are all created to be in relationships with others and to live with dignity and worth in a safe, affordable, and loving home.

However, in many cities across Canada the reality of the high cost of living, a lack of affordable housing, deepening poverty, and loneliness have all contributed to homelessness and despair. In Canada, there are increasing numbers of people spending more than 50% of their income on housing. 1 in 5 of all rental households spend more money on rent than on food and other basic needs. Many who face homelessness are those who live on the margins of society, including the poor, disabled, refugees, and Indigenous people.   

1 in 5 of all rental households spend more money on rent than on food and other basic needs.

In Metro Vancouver where I live, the rise in homelessness is heralded by low vacancy rates, increasing rents, and overcrowded shelters, which have led to more “tent cities” as people continue to live in tents on the streets. Shelter occupancy has stayed around 97% for the past four years, with increasing numbers of women using shelters. Currently, there are more than 10,000 individuals or families waiting for affordable housing on the government of B.C.’s Housing Registry.

How do we respond to those facing homelessness and looking for home? As Christians, we are called to do justice and to work toward an equitable society where everyone has the right to live in dignity and has equal access to basic needs, including housing. The UN Declaration of Human Rights’ Article 25 affirms the right of everyone to adequate housing: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well‐being of himself, and his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.” The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms also champions the right to housing with its equality rights and the right to security of the person. Housing is more than a commodity—it’s a fundamental human right.

Governments have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and practice public justice by investing in infrastructures and ensuring access to safe, affordable and secure housing. While governments have a role in addressing homelessness, as faithful individuals we must also respond by building inclusive and welcoming communities for people to have a sense of belonging and a place to call home.  

It takes more than a roof over one’s head to find home.

I am often reminded that it takes more than a roof over one’s head to find home—I feel most at home when I am surrounded by loving and caring people in my community. Through different seasons of my life, I am thankful for all the people that have created a safe and loving home for me in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Texas, and Hampshire, U.K.  

When I look to the Scriptures, I am comforted by Psalm 68:6 which tells us that God “makes a home for the lonely.” The Hebrew word for home is bay·ṯāh, which also means “families.” Let us remind each other that we are made to be relational—we need to help one another to find our home and build flourishing communities to care for each other. In times of transitions and uncertainties, may we continue to hold on to the hope and promise that “God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  

To go deeper, check out these national organizations working on issues of housing and homelessness in Canada:

Citizens for Public Justice 

Raising the Roof 

Dignity for All

[Image: Pexels]

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