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Call to Action: Homelessness forum for Parishes held 8 June 2019

Fifty five people from 25 parishes gathered on 8 June 2019 to consider what they might do as individuals, parishes and networks to alleviate the suffering of homelessness. Participants shared numerous insights into how we might reduce homelessness in our local communities.

Fr Joe Caddy AM Episcopal Vicar, Social Services and Parish Priest of St Mary’s Parish, East St Kilda drew a parallel between the story of the Good Samaritan and people who find themselves homeless. He led us through the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2018-19 A Place to Call Home – Making a home for everyone in our land and reminded us that we are enjoined to “Love your God with your whole heart, and your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Fr Joe drew attention to this week’s Pentecost Gospel reading, where Jesus says “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). Even – or especially - God is looking for a home in our hearts.

David Moloney of St Anne’s Parish, Seaford told of the work of the Seaford Housing Action Alliance (SHAC), a group commenced by parishioners and including Mt Eliza St Vincent de Paul Society and Seaford Beach Cabin Park residents, people who would be at risk of homelessness without the Cabin Park. Through prayer, reflection and consultation SHAC was able to save the Cabin Park, tagged for “redevelopment” into a carpark. SHAC provides meals for rough sleepers, it has lobbied for better rooming house standards in the Frankston area and is liaising with the Frankston City Council for an alternative Cabin Park site for people at risk of homelessness.
Scott Hawkins, Pastor at Urban Life Church, Ringwood and members of his Church initiated the Winter Shelter ministry in the Ringwood area. Scott says “Homelessness is the loss of hope”. Together with seven local churches, including Holy Spirit Parish, North Ringwood and volunteers from 26 churches, Scott’s team provide meals, friendship and beds for up to 12 people at a time, while working on restoring hope and the desire to find ongoing accommodation. The Winter Shelter group provided 380 bed uses last year, with 200 volunteers helping; the number of volunteers has grown to 320 in 2019. There has been a very high success rate in placing last year’s rough sleepers into ongoing accommodation.

Sr Bernadette Keating pbvm led the workshop “What can Parishes do?” She asked each us to first dream about what we would like to see in our parishes regarding homeless people, then to consider what might be possible, and then how to implement the possible. The result was a rich and extensive list of actions that participants will take from the forum, to try to implement in their parishes and communities.

Denis Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Catholic Social Services Victoria reflected that while the State Government has committed to building an extra 1,000 housing units over the next four years, there are around 40,000 people in need of social housing on the Office of Housing waiting list, with 20,000 on the priority list. While advocacy is important, even the best efforts of all levels of government will not be enough to satisfy the need for a roof over everyone’s head. We are all called to action.

The Forum challenged all attending and the whole Church to do what we can to end homelessness in our local communities. A separate article to be posted on our website will set out some of the actions identified at the forum that we may take to come to the aid of people who are homeless.  Enquiries: Denis Fitzgerald, Catholic Social Services Victoria denis.fitzgerald@css.org.au , Mobile 0418 136 372

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