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Secure Dwellings and Stumbling Blocks: Accessible Housing for People of All Abilities

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m a person with spastic cerebral palsy and other disabilities. That means that – like all people, let alone other folks with disabilities! – I require access to affordable housing. On one hand, I can happily report that as I write these words, I sit at my own kitchen table, in an apartment where I live by myself. Sometimes, I need a little help getting my groceries, but I can come and go when I please, and I don’t live with too many insects! On the other hand, I make a bit more than $30 an hour, so this wonderfully level, clean, and well-lit space costs me a little less than half of my pay each month. That’s not sustainable!

So, in about the next seven hundred words, I want to assert that the Christian Reformed Church, and the whole church, need to do their best to ensure that believers with disabilities have access to affordable housing. Let’s examine the Scriptures as a starting point.

Leviticus 19:13 makes clear that the children of Israel are not to steal from their neighbours in the new land God is giving them. In the next verse, the Lord tells Moses, “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (19:14, NRSV). While I take issue with the way those verses reify disability (blind folks aren’t just people who need to avoid obstacles, because some are highly successful!), those words ring true. People who abuse folks who are blind and D/deaf – say, those who would make no effort to offer them accessible spaces in which to live and work – are certainly not doing God’s will. In a different vein, in Isaiah 65:21, the prophet asserts that the children of Israel, at that time yearning for home in the Babylonian exile, “shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat” (NRSV). In another place, the same prophet says simply, “My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places” (32:18, NRSV). 

Thus, Scripture illustrates in ample and manifold ways the deep need of people with disabilities for accessible housing.

Other biblical examples abound. Strikingly, while he’s warring with the house of Saul to secure his claim to the throne of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 3-5), King David takes Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, a person with paraplegia, into his house and eats with him at table (2 Sam. 9). Perhaps most critically, the Lord Jesus takes umbrage at grandiose exercises of hospitality in his own day. He asks rich people to invite as guests not those who can repay their favour, but people who are poor, those who are lame, and those who experience low visual acuity, because that generosity will demonstrate a true and God-like form of righteousness (Luke 14:13-14).

Thus, Scripture illustrates in ample and manifold ways the deep need of people with disabilities for accessible housing. We might ask how Canada measures up to that plumb line, while simultaneously observing that many people who are poor are also people with disabilities. According to a report by CTV News Toronto, 110 unhoused people died at Toronto shelters in 2022. Similarly, the Church of the Holy Trinity, an Anglican church close to the Eaton Centre shopping mall at Yonge and Dundas, keeps its own count of under-housed people. According to their memorial services for those who die on the streets of Toronto, “To date, at least 74 citizens of Toronto have died while experiencing homelessness in the past two years.” News from Storeys, a Torontonian real-estate publication, is heart-wrenching too: “80% of food bank clients living in private market rentals reported they pay more than half of their income on housing, putting them at high risk of homelessness.” Does this sound like folks being able to inhabit their own houses, or like people quite deliberately reviling some of our society’s most vulnerable citizens – as the Law says, putting stumbling blocks in people’s way?

This awful, even atrocious, snapshot of city life is actually avoidable

This awful, even atrocious, snapshot of city life is actually avoidable, if those who have money and influence in the CRC and other denominations can advocate successfully for affordable housing for people who are poor and who have disabilities. There are some signs of hope; for instance, the Dale, a Christian ministry in Parkdale, Toronto, “seeks to create spaces of belonging in which all people, particularly those who are marginalized, are encouraged to participate fully, to the best of their abilities.” In that ministry, a few friends of mine perform both outreach and community-building for that group of people, many of whom require accessible and affordable housing. In the same way, a social-justice motion called “It’s Time to Raise the Rates!” within the Anglican Diocese of Toronto calls for increased rates of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program payments for those who are vulnerable in 2023. 

These sorts of ministries can create the conditions for God’s people, with and without disabilities, to dwell securely in the places where we live, without encountering obstacles that some people would selfishly put in our way. These endeavours allow people of varied abilities to live, and to truly flourish, just as God intends. Someone say amen!


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