Monday, May 9, 2011

Across Boundaries: Collaboration to End Homelessness in Our Communities

Social Action Ministries (SAM), a program of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), is dedicated to working with people of diverse religious and ethical beliefs to end homelessness. While we encourage dialogue and reflection on the ways in which faith or other belief systems inspire people to engage in social action, we’re not a “religious” organization. Neither do we identify as “left” or “right” on the political spectrum—we firmly believe that ending homelessness is a mission that crosses political lines. So what are we doing blogging for, when SAM doesn’t identify as exclusively religious or left? is dedicated to opening up “public discourse about religion in American society,” providing a forum for constructive dialogue that takes into account the variety of religious and political backgrounds which Americans bring with them into the public sphere. At SAM, we too are exploring that intersection between religious and ethical beliefs and social action in the public sphere—in our case, with a particular focus on action to end homelessness. SAM supporters come together, from our diverse spiritual and ethical traditions, to demonstrate our respect for the dignity of all human beings by working for a society in which no one is without a home.

The idea of ending, rather than managing, homelessness actually marks an important shift in focus from the many years in which government, faith communities and service providers addressed homelessness primarily through temporary responses, such as homeless shelters. It’s a shift away from thinking that people need to meet certain requirements of mental stability, sobriety or other clinical benchmarks before they can “deserve” housing. Instead, SAM advocates for permanent housing solutions—in other words, can’t we do better for our most vulnerable neighbors than viewing the streets or homeless shelters as acceptable places to live? To read more about housing solutions to homelessness, click here.

In the process of advocating for permanent solutions to homelessness, we do encounter differences in theological beliefs, terminology and practices—differences that sometimes pose very real
barriers in collaboration to support of systemic change. Some communities find it difficult to step outside the face-to-face interaction of direct service to think about systemic responses to injustice. Others fear working with people from different belief systems is essentially an endorsement of what they consider to be false or even harmful beliefs (read more here and here).
To end homelessness, we need to take a step back and think critically about both the ways we engage—or should engage—across religious and political boundaries, and the ways that we are responding to the problem of homelessness itself. Think about the charity or social action work that you do with your congregation or community group. Are you contributing your time, talent and donations to efforts that focus on permanent solutions? If you have experience directly serving homeless individuals through soup kitchens and shelters, have you also thought about ways to end the need for soup kitchens and shelters? Do your partnerships with other communities in this work reflect your commitment to the basic need of housing for all our neighbors? Or do your partnerships (or lack of partnerships) prioritize theological disagreements over the human dignity of those who tonight are without a home?

It’s incredibly important to create spaces for dialogue within and across religious and political boundaries. But we don’t have the luxury to just talk. Let’s commit to taking action together to support housing for all of our neighbors. Will you join us?

Caitlin Golden is the Outreach Coordinator at the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), where she engages communities across the Commonwealth in ending homelessness through Social Action Ministries, the MHSA Young Professionals Group and other initiatives. She has a Master in Theological Studies, with a focus in religion, ethics and politics, from Harvard Divinity School, and a background in religious studies, philosophy and the intersection of faith and social justice.

No comments:

Post a Comment