Episcopal City Mission Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ECM Announces Burgess Urban Fund 2009 Grantees

The Burgess Urban Fund (BUF), a grants program of the Episcopal City Mission (ECM), is intended to nurture creative, grassroots organizing in response to social injustice in Massachusetts. BUF supports organizations that are undertaking grassroots community organizing to create affordable housing, to secure workers’ rights and benefits, and to promote broad access to employment. The fund awards grants in these areas and also supports special projects in areas of interest to BUF that are aligned with ECM’s mission.

Affordable Housing

Bread and Roses Housing, Lawrence – The mission of Bread and Roses Housing (BRH) is to create and preserve affordable housing for low income families, to support their goals of self-sufficiency, education and empowerment, and to advocate for very low income households in the greater Lawrence area. BRH received a grant to support their Affordable Housing Program, in which they outreach to the community to increase the capacity of their constituents to become leaders of change in their neighborhoods, the city, and ultimately, to become role models for other cities impacted by high poverty rates. www.brhousing.org

Dudley Neighbors Inc., Roxbury – Dudley Neighbors, Incorporated (DNI) was created by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative(DSNI) to play a critical role in the housing development portion of DSNI’s comprehensive master plan that was drafted by residents to guide the revitalization of the neighborhood. DNI was awarded a grant to maximize the stabilizing effects of the community land trust model by putting tools into the hands of land trust residents, providing financial planning and developing the leadership of DNI residents in the larger community. They also propose to advocate and organize for greater use of the land trust model in order to protect more affordable housing. www.dsni.org/dni

Merrimack Valley Project, Lawrence – The Merrimack Valley Project’s (MVP) mission is to promote the welfare of the Merrimack Valley region through the joint efforts of the organizations’ committed to the dignity and freedom of all. MVP received a grant to support their “Protecting Family Housing and Assets Project.” The goal of the project is to organize a powerful base of leaders to respond to the affects of the current economic crisis and demand justice for hundreds of Lawrence and Lowell families who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure and eviction. http://www.merrimackvalleyproject.org

WATCH, Waltham – WATCH’s mission is to build, preserve, and promote affordable housing and to enhance economic opportunities, civic participation and leadership skills of low and moderate income families in the Waltham area. WATCH received a grant to support their “Mobilizing for Affordable Housing Priorities” project. The goal is to develop and lead low-income leaders in creating and using a community endorsed housing plan to overcome political barriers and increase affordable housing in Waltham. www.watchcdc.org

CORI Reform

Boston Workers Alliance, Boston – BWA is a member-led organization of under and unemployed workers fighting for employment rights. BWA received a grant for general operating support to continue their work to build access to employment for those who have barriers due to a criminal record. They will accomplish this through member organizing, direct services support, campaigns and coalition building and economic development. www.bostonworkersalliance.org

Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement(EPOCA), Worcester – EPOCA is an organization of ex-prisoners working with allies, families and friends to create resources and opportunities for those how have paid their debt to society. EPOCA received a grant for general support to continue to build community power, particularly among youth, low-income people and people of color who are disproportionately affected by the oppression of the criminal justice, correctional and re-entry systems. The grant will also support their work to lead initiatives to end the overuse of criminal records as a bar to employment, housing and education. www.exprisoners.org

Union of Minority Neighborhoods, Jamaica Plain – UMN’s mission is to ensure that trained, committed grassroots leaders of color effectively organize on issues of concern in their communities. UMN received a grant to help support MARC – Massachusetts Alliance to Reform CORI, a statewide campaign to reform the criminal justice system and reduce the adverse consequence – unemployment. www.unionofminorityneighborhoods.org

Poverty Related Organizing

Alternatives for Community and Environment, Boston – Alternatives for Community and Environment’s (ACE) mission is to build the power of communities of color and lower income persons to eradicate environmental racism and classism and achieve environmental justice. ACE received a grant to organize the T Riders Union to organize and build a base of riders from the Boston area’s most transit-dependent communities. They will continue to address the root inequalities in the system and first fight for first class service and fair share of public transportation investments. www.ace-ej.org

Brockton Interfaith Community, Brockton – Brockton Interfaith Community’s (BIC) mission is to improve the lives of the people of Brockton by building the leadership of its citizens. BIC trains and develops leaders to realize their own power and how to use it affectively. BIC was awarded a grant for general operating support to continue to pay the salary for a second organizer who will spend the next year working on foreclosure prevention as well as the resale of foreclosed homes, and increase in single occupancy rooms, CORI reform, youth violence prevention and increase in diversified teaching staff at the Brockton schools www.mcan-oltc.org/affiliates.html#BIC

Coalition Against Poverty, New Bedford – The Coalition Against Poverty (CAP) works to empower those excluded from the economic benefits of the current system, especially current and former welfare recipients, residents of public housing, single parent families, and racial minorities. CAP received a grant for general operating support to strengthen their grassroots organizing program. Funds would be used to organize effective campaigns, recruit volunteers, develop leadership and strengthen grassroots funding capacity. Issues under consideration for the coming year are: raising revenues to stop budget cuts to essential services, protecting funding for programs facing severe cuts, CORI reform, sick day legislation, increasing access to living wage jobs weathering homes and buildings, and reforming school disciplinary actions. http://caporganize.org/index2.html

Essex County Community Association, Lynn – The Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) is a non-profit, interfaith, broad based community organization on Boston’s North Shore that include churches, synagogues, a family housing project, school parents’ groups, and labor unions. ECCO’s mission is to develop leadership to build power and collaboration among families and communities on the North Shore. ECCO was awarded a grant to assist the organization in hiring additional staff to help organize congregations in Salem and to help current ECCO member congregations become more involved in the Green Jobs, youth violence prevention, school improvement and job training and readiness programs. www.eccoaction.org

Immigrant Rights/Access to Employment

Metro West Worker Center, Framingham – The Metro West Worker Center (MWWC) is a community organization dedicated to the principle of workers’ rights for all men and women, and working to secure the welfare of the community of immigrant workers through the development of worker leadership. MWWC received a general operating grant to support their programs for the next year. They will be working to expand outreach into the immigrant community, continuing to formalize their organizational structure, developing the immigrant leadership within their organization and developing and utilizing additional strategize to achieve compliance with labor laws in industries employing low wage immigrant workers.

One Lowell, Lowell – ONE is a community based organization that works to improve the life and opportunities for the culturally diverse people of Lowell. They are dedicated to increasing the integration and self-sufficiency of Lowell’s many newcomers by strengthening civic participation, developing strong leadership and increasing access to vital services. One Lowell received an award for the, “Leadership, Empowerment and Training program for Diverse Leaders.” This program will utilize the “Popular Education” organizing model to educate, inform, and empower the immigrant community in Lowell. Combined with a participatory leadership development model they will work to increase minority representation and influence in Lowell. www.onelowell.net

Student Immigrant Movement, Boston – The Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) is a statewide immigrant youth-led organization based in Massachusetts. They identify, recruit and develop leaders in local cities and towns who are invested in improving their communities through relational building, leadership development, electoral organizing and using both strategic and motivational campaigns that build movement. SIM was awarded a grant for general operating support to broaden their membership and to take an active role in statewide and national campaigns critical to the future of the immigrant community. www.simforus.com

United Interfaith Action, Fall River – United Interfaith Action (UIA) is a congregation-based community organization that over the last 13 years has empowered faith communities and their allies to address some of the serious community concerns of SE Massachusetts with a specific focus on the cities of Fall River and New Bedford. UIA was awarded a grant to support their “Immigrant Training and Organizing Project.” The goal of project is to train and empower leaders from immigrant community to move effectively address issues of primary concern to all residents of the region, such as unemployment and job training, public safety, and public education. www.unitedinterfaithaction.org

Monday, December 7, 2009

The poor in the Bible

As went enter the Advent season, a time known for charitable giving and reaching out to the poor, ECM's Executive Director, Dr. Ruy Costa, has prepared the following thoughts, a reflection on how the Bible addresses the poor, our call to help those in need and the work to eradicate poverty:

In the gospel according to Saint Matthews, chapter 26, verse 11, Jesus said: "… you always have the poor with you." If there is a text of Scripture pregnant with unintended surplus of meaning, this is it. "Surplus of meaning" refers to meaning generated by a text which goes beyond the original intention of the text and often undermines it. So, Mt.26.11 has been quoted to argue that Christians should not waste time working for social and economic justice, or that social and economic justice should not imply the elimination of poverty. It is almost as if one needs to make sure that poverty is never eliminated so that the words of the Gospel are not proven wrong -- a perverse effort to make sure that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy -- as if the credibility of Jesus would depend upon the perpetuation of poverty in the world and might be undermined by its elimination.

Another assumption that colors much of the debate over poverty is a certain work ethic that attributes prosperity to hard work and poverty to laziness. This is the teaching found in the "Wisdom literature," for example.(1) Other texts are even more radical, attributing poverty to God's punishment and wealth to God's blessing.(2) A major complication however, in researching Scriptures for insight on poverty, is that often the poor is seen as the object of God's special favor and poverty may be seen as a virtue while wealth is scorned as wickedness.(3)These various themes merge with each other, split from one another and weave a complex web of meanings in the writings of the prophets, the books of the law, the wisdom literature, in the poetry and hymnody of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the Gospels.

Of the various types of poverty found in Scripture, socio-economic poverty is the main focus of concern in the various traditions engaged by the writers of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The oldest of these traditions is probably the classical prophets. They were moved by a passionate (some might say "fanatical") pursuit of piety understood as social justice in reverence to God. Some scholars attribute this tradition to the religion of the pastoral tribes that preceded the establishment of Israel in Palestine. These tribes had a profound sense of connectedness; they shared a belief in the universal presence of God (as opposed to the belief in local deities of the agrarian and urban cultures of that time) and a life style that demanded collective stewardship of the means of production under the head of the tribe.(4)When confronted with the taxing demands of a centralized government in Jerusalem, (and the ideology that privileged Jerusalem as the site of God's throne) as well as the economic exploitation of the poor by the powerful city elites and rural land owners, this ancient tradition of human equality under the rule of God, would have erupted as a revolutionary antithesis to the status quo. The prophet Amos, for example, regarded as the oldest of the classical prophets, holds nothing back in his denunciation of the oppressive rich.

- To continue reading Dr. Costa's thoughts on the poor in the Bible, Click Here.

[1] See, especially, Prov. 6.6-11; 10.4; 20.4-13; 24.30-34; 14.23; 28.19; 12.11.

[2] See, for example, Dt. 28.15-46; Lv. 26.14-26.

[3] See Micah 6.10-12 for an example.

[4] Scott, Robert Balgarnie Young, The Relevance of the Prophets, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1953, pp. 18-39; Gottwald, Norman, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction, Philadelphia, fortress press, 1985, pp. 285-87

Friday, December 4, 2009

Faith Communities Leading the Way in Housing First

From Boston to Stockbridge, families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet and many are facing eviction, job loss and the fateful decision to move into a shelter. Last winter the state awarded $8 million in grants to regions across the state to support a shift from a reliance on the emergency homeless shelter system to a Housing First model. This approach shifts resources to programs that reach out and support those in need before they are faced with the decision to enter our shelter system, and help to stabilize families and individuals once they are resettled into housing.

Though the state is working hard at making this transition, it is taking some time to establish this new approach. Thankfully there are other partners who are working to help families and individuals in need and through innovative approaches taking huge strides to end this homeless crisis.

Last summer Episcopal City Mission, One Family Inc. and the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation joined together to fund eight Faith Based Action Plans to end homelessness. These groups were part of the same communities that were awarded funding from the state’s Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness who are working to organize their region through a Housing First approach to homelessness.

These eight faith based groups are living out the tenants of Housing First, right now and we are seeing results today.

In the Merrimack Valley, the Greater Lowell Interfaith Partnership to end Homelessness (GLIPH), an interfaith group of clergy, lay leaders and members of congregations have come together to address the crisis in their community. As a result of conversations and a forum hosted last winter they are building a website that will be a tool for local clergy and all members of the community to track resources for people in need who are in their pews and utilizing their emergency programs. The website will be a guide of local programs, resources and state programs that are available. It will also serve as an educational tool for the many people in the faith community who are working with this population.

On the North Shore, the North Shore Community Action Program, the recipient of the state ICHH funding has created a faith based advisory council, chaired by a local member of clergy. They are working closely with churches and synagogues across the region to train clergy as “first responders.” Like the Merrimack Valley they know that the faith community is often the first place people turn to when in need. This way clergy and other leaders will know how to discern if a family’s request for groceries is indicative of a larger issue, i.e. is an eviction imminent, and how to lead them in the right direction to receive services to help them maintain their home. This too will also help private funds go much further. Instead of paying off a utility bill that someone might need help with, it links the faith community to someone who can help the family sign up for a state supported program that will help them pay off their bill. This allows the parishes funds to go towards other needs that the family may need, and that the state is not able to help with, fixing a car, buying a T pass, etc…

In Boston, Social Action Ministries, a program of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance has convened congregations from across the city to discuss this crisis. Already several churches, like St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church have committed to make this their number one priority when it comes to policy. They are currently working hard to raise awareness about how the Governor’s 9C cuts will be affecting the homeless. This group is also working with congregations to adapt a model of support for families/individuals who have recently been re-housed. Members of these faith communities want to help stabilize the newly housed and build a community of support for those who may feel alone and scared after years of being on the street.

In Worcester, the Worcester Interfaith Coalition to End Homelessness (WICEH), has taken a four prong approach to this crisis. Through Hope for Housing, an exciting fundraising program in partnership with local grocery stores, they are raising funds directly for homeless prevention, working closely with an agency in Worcester that helps families pay rental arrearages, back rent, etc… They sponsor a Community Loan fund, raising capital to build affordable housing. They are working to create an early warning system with the help of all the faith based emergency programs in the city, and they to are working with their members to address local and statewide policy issues that will affect the creation of affordable housing and access to services. More innovations and exciting programs are happing in the other regions.

This is just a sample of how the faith community is leading the way in helping to prevent and end homelessness in Massachusetts!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Big win for CORI Reform!

Through the Burgess Urban Fund, ECM has been supporting several organizations working to reform the criminal record system here in Massachusetts. This past week we saw a big win in this work. The following is a note from one of our BUF grantees, the Boston Worker's Alliance.
Dear Friends,

This past Wednesday in the last hours of the 2009 legislative session, the
Massachusetts State Senate passed "An Act Relative to Sentencing Laws"
with a vote of 26-12.

This victory represents a major step towards substantially reforming
the discriminatory laws that keep individuals with CORI from obtaining
work, housing, training and other fundamental human needs.

The passage of the Senate bill is a result of hard work by over 100
organizations and thousands of committed residents. On behalf of the
the Boston Workers' Alliance and the Commonwealth CORI Coalition, we
thank you for your ongoing support.

Now that a Senate bill is passed, the campaign moves its focus to the
House of Representatives. To make CORI reform a reality, we must pass
a comparable bill in the House. The House resumes its work on January
1st, and we will build off of tonight's momentum to pass a House bill
that includes our core demands.

Please stay tuned for action updates, including a list of Senators who
voted for or against our bill. It is crucial that the Senators who
supported us hear our appreciation.

This major step would not have been possible without years of struggle
by organizations across the state. With real reform in plain sight,
we hope that you will continue to work with us to bring a decisive
House victory in 2010.

The full text of the final Senate bill will be made available in the
next update. Thank you for your support as we fight for jobs and CORI

Aaron Tanaka
Boston Workers' Alliance
Click here visit BWA's website

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Homeless shelters across Mass. cut services and beds - The Boston Globe

ECM has been closely following the Governor's budget cuts and how they will affect low income people in Massachusetts. It is very frustrating to see how vital programs for the poor can be cut so severely during times of such economic crisis.

The Globe published the following article over the weekend:

Homeless shelters across Mass. cut services and beds - The Boston Globe

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reclaiming Christian Wisdom in an Economic Crisis

Rachel Anderson, the Director of Faith-Based Outreach, Center for Responsible Lending, Washington DC and former Associate Director for Public Policy and the Burgess Urban Fund at Episcopal City Mission, recently posted her thoughts on faith and the economic crisis on the Faith and Leadership Blog at Duke Divinity School.

Here is an excerpt:

Well before the September 2008 implosion of Lehman Brothers, pastors and priests sounded the alarm that something was rotten at the foundations of the American economy. As far back as 1992, religious investors warned that securitization (the process of pooling and re-selling loans to investors) would encourage unsustainable lending by separating the risks of credit from its benefits. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Catholic Archbishop of Washington, told Congress in 2002 that predatory lending was trapping families in high-cost loans, provoking foreclosures and loss of wealth for low-income households.

It was not just the Wall Street-watchers and social justice stalwarts like Cardinal McCarrick who suspected problems in the American economy. Throughout the 2000s, I knew many pastors who worried about ever-expanding consumer debt and an economy premised upon it. As Quaker author Parker Palmer wrote last year, those in tune with their “deeper knowing” had long sensed the coming economic tremors.

We know now that these concerns were all too prescient. The loans that religious investors and advocates warned about ultimately resulted in millions of foreclosures. These surging waves of foreclosure, in turn, triggered the massive losses and bank failures at the heart of the current financial crisis. Since the economic crisis began in 2007, over 4 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure. Another 9 million are expected to experience the same fate by 2012.

As common-sense as the warnings voiced by many in the religious community were, they differed sharply from much of the prevailing philosophy on Wall Street, where the whole business of debt had undergone transformation. Rather than collecting payments from homeowners over the life of a loan, banks and mortgage companies began making huge sums by bundling and re-selling mortgages to investors. This model encouraged unsustainable and even deceptive lending for the sake of short-term gains. Regulators – many of whom shared the culture and philosophy of the bankers they regulated – stayed silent. Few were asking the holistic question of whether the risks and benefits of credit were adequately shared. Even fewer were investigating the impact of new credit models on the most vulnerable, as Cardinal McCarrick did.

As Christians seek to turn their wisdom – which served as an early warning system – into a moral compass for the economic rebuilding ahead, here are some key ways to engage.....

Click here to read the rest of Rachel's post on the Faith and Leadership blog.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ending homelessness with your help

On Friday Aug 28th I stood outside the ECM office in downtown Boston and watched as a hearse with Senator Ted Kennedy’s body passed us by. As the motorcade came down Tremont Street one of the homeless men who spends much of his time on the Common and in the general area of St. Paul’s Cathedral stood along with me and the hundreds of others, in respectful quiet for Kennedy. I couldn’t help but think how glad Kennedy would have been to see this man, who has suffered greatly in his life, standing there with others who are privileged; employed and housed, sending him off and saying thank you.

No matter what your political beliefs or your feelings about the Kennedy clan, we can all agree that Ted Kennedy did not live his life sitting down, he stood up and spoke out when he felt others needed his support and backing. Episcopal churches and many other faith communities across the state are doing just this by engaging in the work to end homelessness in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, along with many other states is guilty of letting the crisis of homelessness overwhelm us into acceptance. As a state we have seen a HUGE increase in this crisis from the early 80’s when we only had a few emergency shelters, to today when we have over 90 shelters that are all full to capacity every night and over 1,000 people living in motels. We have watched the problem grow and instead of looking at the root causes and solutions, the state reacted with emergency supports and short term answers which resulted in an expanded shelter system costing the state over $80 million dollars a year, and a dying affordable housing program.

BUT this is all changing. In the last 3 years a movement to shift away from this shelter system and towards a system of prevention and long term solutions (like housing) has begun. From the Patrick administration to non-profit organizations to the foundation and funding community, the energy has changed.

We all agree that homelessness is a community crisis that we can abolish if we all stand up, speak out, and work together.

So many parishes run programs, operate facilities and provide volunteers to organizations across the state. Because of this we know it is essential for the faith community to be at the table as the state and organizations transition from a reliance on shelter to a new approach.

When talking to members of the faith community I have often been asked “How do we fit into this change? We want to help but in what way?”

The faith community is historically known to support essential emergency programs, like soup kitchens, food pantries, etc... The first step towards change is to think differently about how you operate your program. If you are offering a meal to a person who is on the brink of homelessness, you are providing them not only with a hot supper, but with the knowledge that they do not have to purchase that food, thus you have become a homeless prevention program as that person can now use that money to pay other bills. The same can be said for a food pantry or a free clothing shop. If you provide a meal to an individual who recently moved back into housing, whether recently released from incarceration or from a drug abuse program, in addition to the meal you are providing a community space and support for that person, helping stabilize him/her in their new environment.

Second, we need to ensure that the programs we operate are not stand alone, but part of a larger community wide support system for those in need. The key is to link up to other organizations and services happening in your area so that you are part of this community wide collaboration.

Recently ECM partnered with two other organizations to award faith based initiatives in 7 regions across the state. The goal of these grants is to ensure that the faith community is engaged in the work to end homelessness and that they are empowered to look at new ways to run their programs and offer resources to those in need.

If you are interested in learning how you can engage with the work happening in your community please email kcsimons@diomass.org or to learn more about the movement to end homelessness visit the state’s website for the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.

As members of the Episcopal Church we are called to help our neighbors and to engage in our community. We can help end this crisis, together.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Words of Invitation: A Call, A Provocation

Welcome to the Episcopal City Mission Action and Reflection Blog! This is a blog of the Episcopal City Mission in Boston, Massachusetts, and it is intended to bring you into the circle of conversations about the social witness of the church for economic justice.

This blog is designed to provoke your thoughts as well as to be a catalyst for action.

A few words about our words:

Have you noticed that certain words are intended to invite other words? Certain words are designed to provoke a response from you and keep you in a conversation.

To provoke, by the way is a verb that means “to call forth” from the Latin pro and vocare. The verb vocare means literally to call, like in the word vocation, a call to a certain occupation. Priests, teachers, lawyers and other professionals of the word, are especially skilled in finding the words that get people talking. Certain stories, when told, make your heart beat faster because they resonate with your story and get you eager to tell your story too. The Gospels have generated two thousand years of theological debate, and the debates continue to emerge. No wonder St. John said that “in the beginning was the word…” The evangelists knew the word that would generate many other words, the word that generates worlds.

These same professionals also know how to shut you up! In a court of law, for example, the task of a good lawyer is to silence the opposition. That lawyer will present her case in such a way as to pre-empt any attempt at the opposition to undermine her argument. The point is to win. Words intended to shut the other up. The same happens in science, when a solid piece of research renders the skeptics voiceless. Nothing to say. Case closed. So, words intended to end the conversation also have a critical role in shaping what we know and how we live.

When it comes to policy, however, there are too many “shut ups” in the current debates: vicious distortions of facts, personal attacks, phobias and other biased verbiage that are intended to cause people to fear or to hate a particular view. We will work hard to avoid tabloid shouting matches in these pages. Vigorous disagreement is welcomed. Disagreement is an invitation to talk, a provocation. In our call, however, we need to make this invitation respectful.

A Boston based social scientist has said that “the world is sustained by the tenuous thread of human conversation.” Let us sustain a community of action by the gentle thread of committed reflection.

Welcome again.
Ruy O. Costa, PhD
Executive Director

Save the Date: Annual Meeting June 7, 2011

Keynote speaker The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop the Episcopal Church

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