Canadian bishops issue statement about poverty in Canada, focusing on need for affordable housing

Bishop Mark Hagemoen wrote pastors and parishes Dec. 15 suggesting ways to step up response to poverty and homelessness. (Photo by Ales Kartal, Pixabay)

By Bryan Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is calling on Canadians to treat people in need with respect and dignity, and to support them spiritually and emotionally as well as materially. The statement was released on Oct 23, 2019, ahead of the Nov. 17 third annual World Day of the Poor declared by Pope Francis.

“Poverty is not a purely economic deficiency. Persons in need may also require emotional and spiritual support, in addition to social and financial support,” a new CCCB statement on poverty and affordable housing in Canada states.

The statement, “Poverty in Canada: Ensuring safe, secure and affordable housing” issued through the Commission for Justice and Peace, offers a snapshot of poverty in Canada today and addresses the role that the lack of adequate housing has in perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

“As Christians, we see it as our duty to support safe, secure, and affordable housing which will in turn recognize the God-given dignity of each person and contribute to the building of a more just, fair, and healthy society as a whole.” – Poverty in Canada, CCCB

“Through this statement, the Catholic Bishops of Canada call for collaboration between charitable organizations, all levels of government, and dioceses/eparchies, as well as local parishes, to support individuals who are in need,” according to a posting on the CCCB website.

“Poverty in Canada” reports that between 3.8 million and 4.8 million Canadians are living in poverty, depending on which economic statistics are used.

“This is in part caused by an economic environment of precarious or part-time employment leading to unstable work and income. In an economy that perpetuates poverty, Canadians also face a social assistance system that can be difficult to access when in a position of poverty. These dangers are more prominent among women, as well as Indigenous people, of whom about one quarter currently live in poverty,” according to the CCCB statement.

“Despite the efforts of many charitable organizations, poverty in Canada continues to be an inescapable cycle for some people, and accessing safe, secure, and affordable housing is still a challenge for many Canadians,” notes the report. “Approximately five per cent of Canadians face a housing crisis, with their homes being inadequate or unaffordable. They struggle to provide shelter, food, and safety for themselves and their families.”

One of the issues highlighted in the CCCB statement is that Canadians who don’t have adequate housing – or any housing at all – often face barriers to access government and societal support. An estimated 25,000 Canadians are “chronically homeless.”

“These individuals become exiles within their own society, and social exclusion itself can be a form of poverty. Because they lack an address, the homeless are often unable to access social programs, send their children to school, or obtain gainful employment. This leads to them living hand-to-mouth or shelter-to-shelter,” says the CCCB statement, while acknowledging the federal government has recently developed a National Housing Strategy with a goal of providing stability to families.

“Access to safe, secure, and affordable housing can reduce stress on families, allowing them to devote time to strengthening their family life, growing spiritually, and participating in the life of the community,” said the document issued by Canada’s bishops.

“If the disciples of the Lord Jesus wish to be genuine evangelizers, they must sow tangible seeds of hope. I ask all Christian communities, and all those who feel impelled to offer hope and consolation to the poor, to help ensure that this World Day of the Poor will encourage more and more people to cooperate effectively so that no one will feel deprived of closeness and solidarity,” Pope Francis said in a statement from the Vatican in June.

The Pope’s call to action on the issue of the poor is echoed throughout the CCCB statement.

“As Christians we are called together to eliminate that globalization of indifference which today seems to reign supreme, while building a new civilization of love and solidarity,” said the Canadian statement, citing a Pope Francis address to the Patriarchal Church of St. George, Istanbul, in Nov. 2014.

“Human dignity is respected when we actively listen to those in need and respond generously. Denying people adequate housing, however, is a contradiction of their inherent dignity as children of God and members of the human family,” the CCCB said. “This is why affordable housing is so important. It allows Canadians to stand on their own two feet, to support their families, and to provide for those closest to them.”

“As Christians, we see it as our duty to support safe, secure, and affordable housing which will in turn recognize the God-given dignity of each person and contribute to the building of a more just, fair, and healthy society as a whole.”

And Canada’s bishops are calling on a spirit of cooperation between all people of faith and lay organizations to work together in addressing the causes of poverty in Canada.

“In order for the overall housing situation in Canada to improve, there must be collaboration between charitable organizations, local governments, parishes, and the individuals these programs target,” said the CCCB statement. “This will allow for initiatives to focus their efforts strategically while avoiding unnecessary overlap. Through collaboration and communication, the dignity of the human person can be recognized and promoted.”