Representatives of churches and other community leaders gathered at East Belfast Mission on February 13 to launch resources to help churches respond to homelessness and housing insecurity.
They included the former Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, who retired on December 31 2019.
The resources have been developed by the Irish Inter-Church Meeting – the national forum for dialogue between the churches in Ireland – to build on the experience of the faith sector in responding to homelessness by raising awareness of the devastating consequences and encouraging public reflection and dialogue about the root causes.
The resources are intended to equip church communities and individual Christians to look critically at the attitudes and behaviours that shape how society responds to these issues, and explore how Christian values inform that analysis.
Speaking ahead of the launch, the co-chair of the Irish Inter-Church Committee, the Rev Brian Anderson, said: “In our church communities, we see repeatedly the ways in which homelessness and housing insecurity are damaging social cohesion and community life. In the first three months of 2019, 4,617 households presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
“This figure includes over 1,000 children who are missing out on the security of a family home at a critical stage in their development. This suffering could be prevented if we, as a society, are prepared to make the choices that ensure that the economy serves the common good and respects and protects the dignity of all.”
Mr Anderson continued: “We recognise too that it is not enough solely to look to our elected representatives to resolve this – although we have a responsibility to hold them to account – but we also need to ask ourselves challenging questions about the ways in which we may need to change our attitudes and behaviours if we are truly to be on the side of those who are vulnerable and marginalised.”
Launching the resource, Bishop Abernethy stated: “My own personal journey of life and faith connects homelessness and mental health in a very profound way. Therefore I am delighted to commend this very useful resource which will help people ask the right questions rather than giving unhelpful answers.”
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Daniel Baker, attended the launch. Commenting ahead of the event, he said: “I commend the Irish Inter-Church Meeting for developing these resources in order to support local churches as they respond to homelessness in their communities. Homelessness is an issue that we all must work together to combat – noone should be left without a roof over their head.
“We at Belfast City Council are committed to doing all we can to address the very complex issue of homelessness, and we continue to work with statutory agencies and our city partners. While the council has no direct responsibility to the issue of homelessness, we are acutely aware of the problem, and will continue to work alongside our partners in statutory, community and voluntary organisations to try and bring an end to long-term homelessness in our city.”
The Lord Mayor said he looked forward to meeting with church leaders and finding out more about the problems they face in their own individual communities and how they are coming together for change.
The resources can be found at irishchurches.org/homeless