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Youth Reps Motion to Synod 2016: Homelessness

Two of our wonderful youth reps, Michael Kennerley and Jeremy Harris, presented a motion to Auckland Synod on homelessness. It read:

THAT this Synod calls for the following courses of action:

  1. That Ministry Units liaise closely and effectively with other community based organisations in efforts to house the homeless;
  2. That the homelessness crisis be on the agenda for each clergy cluster meeting until Diocesan Synod 2017;
  3. That each Ministry Unit is encouraged to send a team to volunteer at the Auckland City Mission distribution centre or community foodbank at least twice a year.

Michael Kennerley moved the motion with this speech:

Mr President I move motion 3 standing in my name, which is seconded by Jeremy Harris

Mr President, Members of Synod:

I’ve been to a few Synods now, and I think I’m getting the hang of things. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that we do a lot of talking. And talking is important – it helps us understand each other and make decisions. Last year we all called on the government to double the refugee quota. Peter earlier called on us to send a message to the government about affordable housing. With homelessness we can do more than just talk. We we can also make a physical difference. We can take the initiative. My hope is that by the end of this Synod we will have taken a couple of practical steps towards effecting change.

Statistics NZ defines homelessness as: a living situation where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household, or living in uninhabitable housing. While rough sleepers might be the coal face of homelessness, it is much broader than that. There is a hidden majority of homeless living in cars, garages, in caravans, in motels and boarding houses, or living with family in overcrowded dwellings. It is the lack of amenity, privacy, security – all the things we take for granted in what we call home.

Homelessness is not a new issue, although the recent pickup in media interest might suggest so. However there has been a sizeable increase, strongly influenced by the sharp rise in house prices especially in Auckland. In the last five years the number of rough sleepers in the CBD has doubled. In the 2013 NZ census at least one in 100 people were homeless, compared to 1 in 120 ten years ago. On a personal note, outside my work in West Auckland they have just put up a sign saying “No beggars”, something that was never a problem just 2 years ago.

Just as the definition of homelessness is quite broad, the reasons for it are also varied. Redundancy, mental health, separation and addictions are just a few factors. When I was planning this motion I heard many stories of people who were just like you and me, until something went wrong and they suddenly found themselves trapped at the bottom of society. People without family and friends to give them physical and emotional support. People who are disengaged and disconnected with society. I think there is a preconception that many choose this lifestyle, but to quote our Auckland City Missioner, “Homelessness is not a choice. It is a lack of options.”

A key aim in my motion is to work alongside organisations that are already set up and have experience and resources in tackling these issues. The good news is that there are hundreds of groups in New Zealand that do outstanding social work. While this month I have heard very sobering anecdotes, I have been blown away by the number of groups active in the community – too many to list. And if you do a bit of searching, you’ll find that there are no “homelessness” organisations, it’s just another part of their social work. You see, homelessness is the end product. Anything that engages people in the community and gives them a purpose and belonging is just as crucial. Maybe if we as a church fully committed to preventative action we wouldn’t have a homelessness problem.

I want to recognise the fact that many ministry units in our Diocese are already working closely with local community centres or have set up your own programmes, and for that I thank you and say “keep it up”. Maybe currently your church hasn’t been able to find people or resources. I encourage you to work together with others who do so we can all influence our area.

The Anglican church has incredible resources and it’s tempting to try and set up an all-encompassing approach to fix homelessness. However, this is a large and diverse Diocese. Each region has its own unique context. Maybe you live somewhere where you see the problems outside your front door or maybe homelessness is not a problem in your area. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy that will work for everyone. Your own context will shape what steps you can take.

What I love most about the Anglican Church is our connection with each other. We might be big or small, old or young, and completely disagree on lots of matters, but we are Anglicans. And at stuffy places like Synod we all meet together and try to work through the problems facing our church and society. We can’t solve big problems like homelessness on our own. Some churches have amazing buildings and resources but no people to use them. Other churches might have lots of keens workers but don’t have the facilities. So let’s combine and work together in your own geographical context.

The Clergy Cluster meetings in this motion are just one practical step we can take to shape a plan of attack. My hope is that all those who attend the meetings (whether Clergy or Laity in some cases) form a common goal and action that works for your area. Maybe it starts off with something simple like a community lunch or dinner every month and see where that leads. Maybe you invite a social services group to use your church buildings as a base for their work. Maybe you set up a roster for sharing accommodation with people looking for houses? I don’t want to restrict this conversation to clergy, and I’m aware that many are already very busy managing their parishes. So please report back to your congregations, keep them involved, set them your vision, share the workload. This is an issue that everyone can be involved in.

However, I know these decisions and plans take time, and we want to do something tangible NOW. One of my best memories last year was when my homegroup went to the distribution centre for Auckland City Mission. It was only a few hours on a Saturday, sorting food into boxes so that they could be put in the parcels later on. It wasn’t glorious work, but it was amazingly satisfying to know that this was directly helping people and that by next week all we’d packed would be used up.

The last part of my motion is a simple way to get hands-on involved with social services in the community. It’s also a symbolic gesture that we as an Anglican Church are fully behind incredible organisations like Auckland City Mission – something that’s part of this church, we should own that fact and be proud of it.

Volunteers are essential and organisations like Auckland City Mission always need volunteers throughout the year, in the distribution centre or foodbanks. Maybe you could invite your friends and neighbours, maybe you could set up a volunteer roster as one step from the Clergy Cluster meetings. Volunteering doesn’t require skill – just a little bit of enthusiasm to get stuck in. And it makes you reflect on how we live our lives. I’m becoming keenly aware of how lucky I am to live in a happy family where I’ve never had to worry about where I am going to sleep or whether I’m going to have 3 meals today. I want to be able to give back to others who aren’t as fortunate.

Finally pray. Pray for our leaders, pray for our social workers that you would give them wisdom and endurance, pray for your ministry leaders that your Holy Spirit will guide them as they work together to make their own region more like God’s kingdom, and pray for those who are homeless that God will be with them and comfort them.

My dream is to see a united Anglican Church in Auckland and in New Zealand, where we are more than just a voice in the crowd. Where we are leading our communities as an example of love and action. Where what we do shows to the world what we have inside us

1 John 3:16-18: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

I submit this motion, standing in my name.

Jeremy Harris seconded the motion with this speech:

Kia Ora Presidents and members of Synod.

Firstly, thanks to Peter and David for their motion, and to Chris for his report from the City Mission.
I rise to second this motion because it is very close to my heart.

For the past 4 years I have been involved in a group forming relationships with people in the street community, and have been getting to know them personally. Together we have mourned the bad and celebrated the good, broken bread, and become friends. Myself and those who I work alongside have seen a steady increase in recent years in the number of people sleeping rough.

I recently attended ParkupForHomes in Mangere where 1000 people gathered, homeless and housed, to call the government to do more to provide adequate housing for NZers. And just last week I helped organise ParkupForHomes in Parnell.

Needless to say, all that the previous speakers have identified I have seen first hand to be true.

If the homeless crises is not already on our minds, I urge us that it should be. If we aren’t already doing things in our local communities to work with agencies involved in this sector, I urge us, let us be.

Two of my heroes in the faith, Shane Claiborne and Dorothy Day, say that the question is not whether or not we should be political as the church…that’s not the issue. The matter is how we are political. We need to embody the politics we have. We just passed a motion that identifies our politics as a church on the issue of housing. We called on the government to provide more affordable housing for NZers. Now, let us embody the politics which we hold.

The hope of myself and of Michael is that the church would lead the way in responding to this crises, and show the world what we believe by how we act.

I encourage you, please vote in support of this motion.

Arohanui.

We couldn’t be more proud of our youth reps, standing up for what they believe in and are passionate about. If you are interested in any of the issues, events or ideas brought up in this post, you can email Jeremy at JHarris [at] auckanglican [dot] org [dot] nz.