Conference explores ways to confront displacement

An unhoused man sleeps in a doorway.
An unhoused man sleeps in a doorway in downtown Toronto. Photo by Michael Hudson.
 on November 29, 2023

Embrace vision of new creation, participants told

About 100 Anglicans from across the diocese, and even Atlantic Canada, gathered online Oct. 28 for the annual Outreach & Advocacy Conference, exploring the theme “Living in Exile: Inhabiting a World of Displacement.” Conference workshops focused on how life on the margins of society makes itself felt for people living in rural poverty, in Toronto’s homeless encampments, experiencing food insecurity, and do not feel a sense of belonging in the Church.

As the conference began, participants were inspired by the Rev.  Tina Conlon’s reading of Isaiah 65:17-25, which lays out a bold vision for a new creation marked by justice and peace.

Dr. Brian Walsh

Keynote speaker Dr. Brian Walsh, an author, academic and farmer, made the displacement theme real by outlining the tale of a woman named Meredith who came to the aid of a Black man on the Toronto subway who was seen as a security threat. Meredith drew strength from her own deep sense of feeling rooted from her experiences growing up and from the values of her Christian family. That helped her support the young man on the subway and not be intimidated by police officers who surrounded him.

Dr. Walsh expanded on the theme of displacement, noting that homeless people who have been displaced by poverty, addictions and other reasons then move into parks, only to find themselves further displaced when their encampments are dismantled.

“Jesus creates a place for all, a place for a new creation,” he said. “Without the radical hope of a new creation, without a compelling vision of homecoming in the face of homelessness, we will not have the spiritual or imaginative resources to confront the forces of displacement that wreak such suffering in our world. The only way to inhabit a world of displacement is by living out this vision of radical homecoming in community together.”

Workshops explored other elements of displacement, including one that delved deeper into the homeless encampment issue. It noted that the encampments represent a positive choice for those people who feel restricted by rules imposed by shelters and who enjoy a sense of belonging and community in the encampments.

A workshop on building a movement for affordable housing looked at how the Lakeshore Affordable Housing Advocacy and Action Group in Etobicoke takes a “boots on the ground” approach to working with tenants to educate them about their rights and advocate for housing. The group is working on a land trust project.

Poverty and a lack of affordable housing reach into every corner of our diocese, as was outlined in a workshop on rural poverty led by the Rev. Lorna May from the parish of St. Luke, Creemore. Creemore, a village north of Toronto, is known for its affluence, yet a food bank that began by serving six families two years ago has expanded to serve 37 families. It delivers food to people in need partly because some have no way to get to the food bank, others are too embarrassed to be seen at the food bank, and because deliveries provide a way to keep in touch with people.  One person had direct contact with only one person each week – the person dropping off food to her.

The Rev. Lorna May

“We have families who skip meals and at times go without food,” she said.

Canada’s hunger crisis came to the fore in a workshop on basic income and food insecurity, led by Queen’s University professor Dr. Elaine Power, an expert on food insecurity and a campaigner for basic income. She outlined the alarming rise in foodbank use in Canada, from one and a half million visits per month in March 2022 to almost two million in March 2023, as outlined in a report by Foodbanks Canada called From a Storm to a Hurricane. Yet hunger is actually far worse, since many people are too embarrassed to access food banks or can’t get to them. Dr. Power estimates the number of food-insecure Canadians to be at least eight million.

“This should be a national disgrace in one of the richest countries in the world and one of the richest in human history,” she said.

Aside from the hardships involved, food insecurity costs us far more than many realize. A Canadian who doesn’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from needs, on average, $1,608 in health care costs. But a person enduring severe food insecurity requires $3,930 per year in prescription drugs, doctors’ services, emergency room visits and other health costs.

A basic income program could make a huge difference for people who go hungry or must cut back on other needs, she said. Lindsay was one site where a basic income pilot project was carried out by a former provincial government. “I saw how life-changing it was for so many of my friends,” said Finn Keesmaat-Walsh, who lived near Lindsay at the time.

The Church’s need to become more radically inclusive was also discussed at the conference. Church structures sometimes make it hard for people with different life experiences to feel welcome and feel God’s grace. “The Church is the one institution that exists for the benefit of those outside it,” said the Rev. Susanne McKim, quoting Archbishop William Temple. “But we don’t act that way a lot of the time.” The Rev. Claudette Taylor added, “We need to walk in each other’s shoes.”

Other workshops highlighted farm-worker issues, parish nursing, displacement and the Indigenous experience, and the Greenbelt preservation campaign.

The conference marked 20 years since an annual Outreach Networking Conference was first held in the diocese. “We need to hear the current forms which injustices are taking,” said Elin Goulden, the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy consultant. “There are new ways of responding. We need to be rooted in the dream of God’s vision for the world to have the energy to do this work. This is God’s ultimate endgame.”


Participants urged to take action

Participants of the outreach conference heard a range of ideas to address the needs of marginalized people in our society and bring us closer to the vision of “a new heaven and a new earth,” found in Isaiah 65.

To confront the deepening crisis of housing, participants were urged to raise their voices. “We have to pressure government for more funding,” said housing workshop resource person Jasmin Dooh. “There is a reason more housing co-ops haven’t been built in the past 50 years. It’s the lack of funding.”

The Rev. Lorna May said, “Advocate for change, advocate for a guaranteed basic income. Write letters, phone your representatives.”

A number of ways in which Canadians can support basic income were suggested. These include:

  • Add your voice to that of over 60,000 Canadians on a petition calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support basic income. The petition is at
  • Urge your MP and the federal government to support Bills S-233 and C-223, currently before Parliament. If passed, they would establish a national framework for a basic income. Visit
  • Support advocacy coalitions such as the Basic Income Canada network and UBI Works.
  • Arrange a showing at your church or community group of A Human Picture, an award-winning 16-minute documentary on Ontario’s basic income pilot project. Visit

Participants were also encouraged to truly welcome people with different life experiences into their parishes and to evolve into “communities of resistance” to the mainstream society.


Keep on reading

Skip to content