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Brenda Wiewel, a clinical social worker who directs USC’s Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness, talked about narrative and relationship as means of destigmatizing those suffering on the streets

At the second plenary session of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles’s task force on housing justice yesterday at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, Brenda Wiewel, a clinical social worker who directs USC’s Initiative to Eliminate Homelessness, talked about narrative and relationship as means of destigmatizing those suffering on the streets — suffering because they’re homeless, suffering because of people’s averted eyes.

Sharon Ellis, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County CA, briefed us on the city of Riverside’s tiny homes movement to battle homelessness (three more cheers for the City of Riverside – Mayor Rusty Bailey and his colleagues).

James Rothrock and Sharon Pewtress of Episcopal Communities and Services talked about being road warriors around our far-flung Diocese, working to match dollars for affordable senior housing to land being offered for lease by willing congregations.

The Rev. Canon Jaime Edwards-Acton brought us up to date on his social enterprise working group, matching congregations’ ideas and resources to people in their neighborhoods who need just what Jesus has to offer.

Becks Heyhoe and Avagal Horrow talked about the intricate nexus of housing insecurity and politics and reminded us that the people in our pews have clout if we think systematically about how to marshal it.

The Rev. Holly Cardone stepped up to the plate as coordinator of our third working group, on incarantional ministry.

As in all conversations about homelessness and housing insecurity, NIMBY got lots of mentions yesterday. In L.A. and L.A. county, where generous taxpayers made money available for housing projects, it’s hard to get them through the planning process. As for congregations, how do they feel about having permanent supportive housing or affordable senior housing on their campuses (even when the lease income for mission and ministry is desperately needed)? It’s not especially complicated to open our parish halls for weekly community meals or to collect food for the hungry, and yet even these ministries aren’t for everyone. Making mac and cheese is a lot easier than submitting plans to the city for Riverside-style tiny homes or a sober living house.

And yet surely this is essential justice work for our church in this polarizing time and pricey place. Surely shelter and safety, a place to find rest, the welcome of home are gospel imperatives no less urgent than feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. In our region, housing insecurity and the sinfully high cost of shelter affect every socio-economic cohort, from the homeless to grandparents who retire and realize they can’t afford to live near their grandchildren anymore.

The simmering housing insecurity crisis in the region our diocese encompasses isn’t going to get better anytime soon. So your task force will be hard at work, in the three working groups and at the next plenary session on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 10 a.m. – 12 noon, at the Cathedral Center. Please join us. If you want to get involved, just let Canon for Common Life Bob Williams (bwilliams@ladiocese.org) or me (jtaylor@ladiocese.org) know. And pray for all those who, like our Lord, have nowhere to lay their heads.

John Harvey Taylor