When Jamie Perttula learned that the City of Toronto was putting in a modular housing project for homeless seniors not far from the Church of the Resurrection, where he is a member, he knew he had to get involved.
Mr. Perttula wanted to welcome the new residents to the neighbourhood and also address some of the questions and concerns that local citizens were having. “We needed to show support for this project because there was some very vocal opposition,” he says.
The 58-unit project would house seniors, both men and women, who are experiencing homelessness. A modular housing project consists of modules or units that are built offsite and then transported to the location, where they are assembled on the already poured foundation.
With the support of the Rev. Julie Burn, Resurrection’s incumbent, Mr. Perttula addressed the congregation, asking if anyone else would like to help out. Some people came forward and they began to plan next steps.
Mr. Perttula also spoke to his city councillor, Brad Bradford, to see what else could be done. One of the outcomes was that Ms. Burn was appointed to a community liaison committee, to help local residents and business owners understand the project and address their questions and concerns.
Through conversations with Mr. Bradford, the idea of creating welcome baskets for the new residents also came up. Alan Beattie, a member of Resurrection who was part of the church’s volunteer team, reached out to local organizations, to see if they would be interested in helping to fill the baskets. About 10 groups responded, including churches, the Rotary Club and a school class.
Mr. Beattie played a major organizational role and many other people in the congregation contributed their time and resources, says Mr. Perttula.
Each group was assigned a different item to contribute to the baskets. Items included household cleaning products, toiletries, towels, food, snacks, coffee, tea, crackers, gift cards and more – a value of about $150 per basket. Even the baskets, which came with a welcome note attached to them, could be used afterwards for other purposes.
Everyone gathered in Resurrection’s parish hall one evening to assemble them, and then they were delivered to the housing project.
“For us, this became a visible sign of welcome,” says Mr. Perttula. He says the volunteer group is exploring other ways to help out, such as providing rides to medical appointments, but that has to be discussed with Woodgreen, the non-profit agency that is running the project.
Mr. Perttula says his faith played a big part in his motivation to get involved, and it motivated others in the volunteer group as well. “We’re called to extend compassion and mercy and grace to people, to extend the love of God to people, and how do we do that? How do we be a witness to a different way of thinking about some of these issues, to be a light?”
He says churches can play a key role in helping to establish affordable housing in their neighbourhoods. Through their advocacy and feet-on-the-ground work, they can often make a big difference.
“It can be really hard to go to a public meeting and say something, particularly if you’re in a crowd that’s negative. Not everyone can do that. But I think that’s another way our churches can be involved, by advocating for housing projects that are serving low-income households or those who are homeless.
“And while it’s important to speak up against things that are unjust, it’s also important to speak up for things. Don’t assume that because something’s going along, it’s going to happen. Positive voices for things can support the local councillor and encourage that person to persevere. They often face criticism and sometimes they need encouragement. And I think that’s something the churches can do well. If we think something is good, we need to stand up and say, yes, this is good and this should happen. It’s really important.”