Stand to End Homelessness Now: “Share the Gold” Campaign
Ric Matthews of First United Church spoke eloquently at the rally for a National Housing Program at the Vancouver Art Gallery this past Sunday. This interview with Ric gives a more detailed look into the issues surrounding homelessness in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
“The visible face of this issue is homelessness, prostitution, and addiction. The less visible face is mental illness and poverty. Behind all these factors is a common theme of alienation and dislocation.
"It is about the alienation of people who have lost contact with their culture and their place in the world. It is about people who have lost contact with themselves, family, society, earth, and their spiritual center.
"People who are addicted and mentally ill are using defense mechanisms because they feel lost and alienated and they have either moved or been moved to the margins of society as a result.
"The DTES is really a window into our every day world-boardrooms, workplaces, middle class and affluent homes-so this isn’t about unfortunate people who need housing as much as it is about us as a contemporary society. There are just as many people in the mainstream world who are lonely, isolated and disconnected as there are in the DTES.
"The only difference is they have the resources to hide their distress of serious addiction, serious mental illness, trauma, abuse, violence and even poverty.
What does this have to do with what we do here at First United Church?
"Simply building more housing will not solve the problem because it’s not just about having a home. It’s about belonging, not warehousing.
"The home is a place where we need to feel not just that we belong but that we are safe, understood, and a contributor to the agreements of how we live together. So that is why we have 250 people who actually live here now in the church.
"It is their home where they sleep every night, their possessions are here, their mail is delivered here, and they are here for 18 hours a day. It has been going on for the last 8-10 months since we opened 24/7 one year ago.
"There is a community here: your name is known, your story has meaning and value for others, and you dare to believe that others care for you and will step up for you in a time of need and others expect the same from you.
"There is an irony to the fact that we have a community, on the street in the DTES, which is lacking in mainstream society. People may sleep in the lanes and store fronts but it is more than a neighbourhood here.
"It is a community because caring is in place: knowing that you are tolerated, safe, accepted and welcomed.
A principle part of what we do here is we try to ban the words ”guest” and “client” because ”guests” and “clients” don’t stay; rather, they come and leave.
"Now we talk about our “community members”: staff, board, volunteers, and the neighbourhood residents. We are all equal community members in the sense that the “haves” who have come here to give have discovered that a great deal of their own needs are met here and the “have-nots” have discovered they have a great deal to give. We’ve acknowledged that the line between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is blurred.
"Answering the question of homelessness means we must provide places of refuge like this church as an intrinsic part of the housing solution. Judge Gove has said that now a large number of the people who appear before him, in court, when asked 'Where do you live?’ reply, 'I live at the church.'
"As well, we can’t address addiction, poverty, mental illness, prostitution, and homelessness as separate issues with their own separate solutions. These are all integrated factors that influence and sustain each other.