Congregations address the housing crisis
November 7, 2021
In the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church of Hayward in Castro Valley, California, a village of five tiny homes is the most visible manifestation of the church’s effort to address homelessness. “We’ve come to the theological place, maybe philosophical, that housing is a human right,” said the Rev. Jake Medcalf, Hayward’s lead pastor. “If we don’t provide housing in our neighborhoods, especially in an area like the Bay, we are literally — I don’t think it’s dramatic, I think it’s real — condemning people to die on the streets.”
In California’s Bay Area, Hayward serves an area struggling with skyrocketing housing prices. For every person who finds housing, two more become homeless in their community, Medcalf says, and the impact of homelessness can be devastating.
“They have physical health issues that are killing them, they have mental health issues that are killing them,” he said, adding, “Both of those can develop into addictive issues which are killing them, none of which can be made whole without a house. I think to ask them to get physically better, mentally healthy, to get over their addiction, while they’re living on the concrete outdoors really lacks compassion and lacks reality. If churches don’t get involved, I think that they’re just putting their whole head in the sand and letting people really suffer cruelly on the streets.”
The homes, complete with indoor plumbing, electricity and HVAC, are intended as a transitional space for people who are homeless to have a base to build their lives back to a place where they can afford a more permanent residence, something the church also has in its plans.
In 2008, the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved recommendations in the report “From Homelessness to Hope,” including “Encourage congregations, presbyteries, synods and other church-related entities to pursue comprehensive responses to the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing.” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations are getting involved in affordable housing, from advocacy to building affordable housing units on their properties to address a crisis that is getting worse in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and disproportionately impacting people in marginalized communities.
“The financial fallout from COVID-19 is fracturing an already stressed housing system and, if we care about justice, we must create housing solutions that center on equity, combat displacement and ensure environmental justice,” Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for National Hunger Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said in an April webinar about affordable housing presented by the Presbyterian Mission Agency as part of its Matthew 25 invitation.
Several churches cite the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation when discussing affordable housing.
“I have talked about it in terms of Matthew 25’s focuses on systemic poverty and structural racism,” the Rev. Melana Scruggs, general presbyter of Peace River Presbytery in Florida, said of efforts to create affordable housing for the Immokalee farmworker community in the presbytery. “I think that fits exactly into what our calling is — to make a difference for people who largely either speak Spanish or Creole, and, you know, during COVID didn’t even have good resources about what they were supposed to do during the pandemic? To begin breaking down some of those structural things that make farmworkers vulnerable is part of our faith.”
Substandard housing left farmworkers particularly vulnerable to Hurricane Irma in 2017. The presbytery and several churches had relationships with the farmworker community through other projects such as weekly Friday night meals with the farmworkers and Misión Peniel, a covenant ministry of the presbytery.
After the hurricane, when the presbytery and churches asked what the Immokalee community needed, they were told housing. The farmworkers and their families were housed in trailers that were often in disrepair.
The Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance project will provide 128 two- and three-bedroom units at or below 30% of household income and able to withstand winds of up to 250 mph. Donors to the project include Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which has given $250,000 to the project. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) are all recipients of the annual One Great Hour of Sharing special offering, and all are involved in supporting affordable housing.
Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, November 7, 2021, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Today’s Focus: Housing crisis
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
Loving God, be present with your people who are working with passion and creativity for the mission of your church. Give them the grace to continue in their course in such a way that others will see your love at work. Amen.