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!

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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