By Bob Bettson
Anglicans are being asked to look beyond charity to the larger issues of poverty and homelessness, by a new video launched in Toronto and Peterborough in June.
Turning the Tide: From Charity to Advocacy in Ontario is available on the Diocese’s YouTube channel and on DVD. Directed by Tim Harry and produced by Murray MacAdam, it features homeless people, poverty activists, clergy and politicians, and comes with a users’ guide to help parishes discuss the issues raised. The video is narrated by Judy Maddren, a former CBC journalist and member of the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto.
Archbishop Colin Johnson told people gathered for the launch on June 26 at Redeemer that Anglicans need to work on poverty issues ecumenically and on an interfaith basis where possible, building coalitions. “Don’t give up,” he said. “And don’t become cynical. We are not just taxpayers. We are citizens.”
A panel discussion began with Murray MacAdam, the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant, who said that disasters like the recent floods in Alberta bring out not only popular support, but government aid. “Everyone springs into action,” he pointed out, yet poverty becomes accepted as a routine part of life. He asked: “How can we reconcile this with the call of our faith to take the message of Jesus seriously to care for the marginalized, and act in response?”
Turning the Tide is an attempt to help parishes move beyond existing charitable efforts, which are much needed, to address changes needed to provide better housing, social assistance and job creation programs. Political advocacy can work, said Mr. MacAdam, noting the success of the interfaith coalition that helped stop the casino plan in downtown Toronto.
Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar congratulated the Diocese for capturing in 18 minutes of video what she has been trying to tell people for the last decade in her column. Ms. Goar started writing about poverty issues after a lengthy reporting career. She said when churches join in support of those suffering from poverty and homelessness, they remind people not to lose heart.
“When my spirit flags, I look to you for strength,” she said, noting that advocacy works best when tied to a concrete measure such as a $100 increase in social assistance rates to cover increased food costs.
That was underlined by Sharon Norman, a poverty activist interviewed in the video, who was part of the panel to talk about the “Put Food in the Budget” campaign. The campaign calls on the provincial government to raise social assistance rates so people can purchase more food and rely less on stopgaps like food banks and free meal programs.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are going hungry in Ontario because of systemic poverty,” said Ms. Norman. It isn’t only the homeless and those on social assistance who are going hungry. Seniors and students are also using food programs. “I didn’t think it could happen to me,” she said. “You may think it can’t happen to you. We want justice not charity.” The campaign is calling for an immediate $100-a-month increase in social assistance rates across the province to allow more money for groceries.
All Saints Church-Community Centre in Toronto has helped begin a practical program to teach people to bake bread. Every Friday, a group of eight people who are trying to rebuild their lives bake loaves and communion wafers. The Rev. David Opheim, the incumbent, pointed out that All Saints is able to make a difference because it is present with people in the midst of life on the street. “Poverty is everyone’s business,” he said. “Poverty is not a choice.” He noted that the real solution is a living wage, more jobs and a fairer taxation system, which would involve higher taxes for corporations and high wage earners.
Mr. Opheim said the time for study and consultation is over. “We don’t need more consultation. There are already all kinds of reports and recommendations.”
Those who wish to borrow a DVD version of the video should contact Mr. MacAdam at firstname.lastname@example.org.