By Dr Kathy Yamashita
With the provincial election coming up later this month, let’s take a moment to consider what Jesus would say and do about modern homelessness and its related issues.
In Luke 9:58, Jesus says that foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. The gospels also tell us that Jesus was homeless throughout his public ministry, relying on his friends’ resources and essentially couch-surfing. His disciples followed him in this lifestyle, spreading the message of God’s love in a time that preceded the internet.
We know that Jesus understood homelessness, its causes and its challenges. He told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and the healing of a leper (Mark 1:40-45). Jesus emphasized the importance of helping those in need with all our resources to show God’s love.
In Canada today, an estimated 35,000 individuals are homeless on any given day. The main cause is poverty caused by unemployment and high housing costs. Mental or physical disability and drug addiction are very closely related. Among Canadians, the rate of homelessness in the non-Indigenous populations is 2%. Among First Nations people living off reserve, it is 12%; among Metis, it is 6% and among Inuit, it is 10% that have experienced homelessness.
In June 2021 Medicine Hat, a city of 63,000 people drew national attention by declaring an end to chronic homelessness. That status only lasted 5 months and it is estimated that there are 150 people who experience homelessness on any given day. “Housing First” is a recovery-based philosophy where people are helped regardless of sobriety; it is not reward-based. The Medicine Hat Community Housing Society is a non-governmental organization which puts its feet on the ground and continues to work to end homelessness.
In Lethbridge, a city of 100,000 people, approximately 454 people are homeless (not including the 211 people housed in temporary or transitional housing). These individuals sleep rough or in informal tent encampments, which offend the sensibilities of some people who oppose charitable organizations like The Mustard Seed purchasing hotels to provide housing for the homeless. Jesus would have something to say to these NIMBY (not in my backyard) people.
I think Jesus would also attend the candidate’s forums ahead of the provincial election next month and ask the difficult questions about homelessness. Housing is a basic human need and should be a priority for our provincial government. It is just as important as clean drinking water, health care and education which form the work of elected officials of civic and provincial governments.
Despite this, non-governmental charities seem to be working hardest to take care of the extremely vulnerable homeless people. If you go to CanadaHelps.org you will be able to donate to 24 different charities intended to feed and house the needy. There is also the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, The Mustard Seed, The Salvation Army, The Mustard Seed and the Mission and Service Fund of the United Church of Canada. If the governments were doing their jobs, why are these charities in business?
Dr. Kathy Yamashita is a family physician in Lethbridge, a member of Southern Alberta Japanese United Church and also serves on the Chinook Winds Regional Executive.
You can download a PDF version of Jesus Would Prioritize Homelessness.
Leading up to the 2023 Alberta provincial election, United Church leaders, including the Chinook Winds Regional Executive, are writing a series on Jesus’ Politics, current issues and our faithful response. This is the third in a series of seven articles. Read more at ChinookWindsRegion.ca