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Day 2

Church urged to find ways to help those impacted by housing crisis

A motion on the housing crisis was proposed by the Church and Society Commission at General Synod in Belfast this afternoon. The motion calls for General Synod to recognise that helping people affected by the housing crisis must be considered an essential part of the Church’s mission and ministry. The motion asks the RCB and Standing Committee to work with parishes and dioceses to identify ways in which the Church can directly help those in need, and can assist the relevant authorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to respond to this crisis.

Proposing the motion Neville Armstrong said: “on this small island of ours the promise of dignity and contentment remains a distant dream for many. The perfect storm that has been Brexit, pandemic and now the threat of global warfare all conspire to cut off young families, single mothers, people living on the economic margins from the opportunity to live in safety and comfort. We dream of building enduring sustainable communities through social housing but every year our targets are never met and the gap between demand and supply grows ever wider”.

He said that society needed to commit to increasing the development of new sheltered and supported accommodation that can help the vulnerable and reduce pressure on social services and health care. This would mean approaching new ideas and new ways of doing things.

He said that people of faith could play a part in recognising how having sustainable, affordable housing could help build urban and rural communities in a balanced and progressive way. He said that we needed to find ways to protect those most in need and demonstrate the importance of social cohesion and strong communities.

Seconding the motion, the Revd Rob Clements said that there was no moral justification for the lack of housing we are experiencing in Ireland today. He said it was a social and economic issue, but it was also a theological and pastoral one. It was important that the Church should speak out and draw attention to those affected, he stated.

“Not only does this have immediate impact on the well–being of the most vulnerable, positioned at the knife–edge of housing insecurity, but the lack of accessible housing has long–term implications on social cohesion and established societal norms for people of all ages,” he explained.

He observed that the Covid–19 pandemic had made us realise how vital our homes are to our health and has illustrated without doubt the connection between poor housing and well–being. It had shown unequivocally that housing is an issue of justice and equality. As such it is an issue of missional concern, Mr Clements added.

“Building more houses, whilst important, is not sufficient to address the prolonged housing issues this island continues to face,” he continued. “We need not just more housing, but truly affordable housing (no, truly affordable homes) and stronger communities where people can feel they belong.”

He contended that this was an area where the Church has a role to play. This meant affirming the right to safe and stable housing, keeping informed about housing policy, speaking out and making public representatives accountable and developing and supporting housing initiatives.

Speaking to the report, Damian Jackson of the Irish Council of Churches said they had been engaging with this issue for a number of years. The ICC undertook research some years ago in speaking to people who were homeless or experiencing housing insecurity. From that a report was produced called ‘In six months a lot can change’ highlighting the fact that it just took one or two unfortunate events to result in someone losing their home. The report includes small group studies.

The Revd Colin McConaghie (Clogher) commended the motion. He said that this was a national crisis and not just a problem for big cities. He suggested working with Habitat for Humanity Ireland who are experts in this field.

Canon Trevor Sargent (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) said this was an opportunity to lobby the government of Ireland, fifty years after the Kenny report on homelessness and housing. Subsequent governments failed to enact recommendations of the report on speculation due to challenges in the courts under Article 43 of the Constitution. He said it needed to be challenged and it needed the strong voice of lobbyists and the Church to see that the Kenny Report be implemented.

Bishop David McClay (Down and Dromore) spoke in favour of the motion stating that the issues around homelessness were many and complex, including the issue of addiction. He spoke of the impact of addiction and appealed to Synod to include the issue of addiction in considerations of homelessness.

The motion was passed by Synod.


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