Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
12 Jul 2017

Welcome to St. Mary's Cathedral Hall. I am very pleased to co-host tonight's community forum and I want to begin by thanking all of you who have chosen to take part. In particular I welcome the NSW Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing, Hon. Anthony Roberts MP. I acknowledge the members of the Sydney Alliance, the Greater Sydney Commission, as well as leaders and representatives of trade unions, businesses, agencies and associations concerned directly with housing issues or with the social infrastructure of our community. I'm also delighted to welcome faith leaders including Rabbi Mendel Kastel, the Grand Mufti Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, and the Moderator of the Uniting Church in NSW Rev. Myung Wha Park, along with the faithful of many parishes and faiths.

Homelessness is an issue not only close to the religious heart but to that of many in the wider community. Over the years crown land releases, stamp duty rebates, first home-owner schemes, and other initiatives have been used by government to encourage home ownership - at least for those who can obtain credit and make mortgage repayments. But the price of buying or renting has so escalated in this city that it is now amongst the most expensive in the world. Meanwhile, the stock of public housing relative to population has declined. For some this means reasonable accommodation absorbs half their income or more. Add personal problems, certain social trends and a global financial crisis or two, and before you know it more than 100,000 people in Australia are now homeless. We are blessed to live in one of the most affluent societies in the world, a country that pays lip-service to the range of human rights including the right to housing, and indeed mostly delivers such subsistence needs. Yet 1 in 200 Australians will sleep homeless on this cold night. And we know that brings all sorts of personal and social costs that should concern every citizen.

For believers there are additional reasons to be troubled by the homelessness epidemic. The Bible is replete with instructions about caring for the stranger and ensuring that no one lacks a roof over their head (e.g. Lev 25:35-36; Isa 58:6-8; cf. Ps 82:3; Prov 19:17; 21:13; 22:9; 29:7; 31:20; Jer 22:3-5,13-17; Isa 61:1-4). The God revealed in Jesus Christ is One in profound solidarity with the homeless (e.g. Lk 4:18; 14:13-14; Mt 10:7-11; Jas 2:1-26). Jesus himself was famously born in a stable when there was "no room at the inn", was taken soon after by his parents as a refugee into Egypt, and declared as an adult that he had "nowhere to rest his head" (e.g. Mt 8:19-20). He stood alongside the homeless and outcast, and taught his disciples to care for the "little" or powerless ones. As his famous parable of the Good Samaritan illustrated, people of faith and ideals must intervene not only to assist the man mugged and left for dead with emergency care, but also ensure longer-term accommodation "at the inn" (Lk 10: 25-37). What the Samaritan in the story did not ask was whether the victim was one of the "deserving poor", or whether the man had acted responsibly by walking down the Jericho road at night. No, it was simply someone in need of the very basics of survival, and as Jesus made clear to his disciples, it is in those in need of food, shelter and human company that we meet Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:31-46). As The Epistle of St James asks with biblical directness: "What's the point of saying to the needy: "Go in peace, be warm and filled" without giving them what they need? (Jas 2:16).

In that tradition, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney collaborates with other Church agencies to provide hundreds of residences for the homeless and we're working with government to provide several hundred more through the social and affordable housing fund. CatholicCare Sydney provides transitional housing for young people, and wrap-around services for those in housing stress. The St. Vincent de Paul Society does inestimable work for thousands of struggling families and individuals suffering homelessness or housing stress. Religious orders and individual parishes have made provision of various kinds in this space. And I know that many churches, religions and not-for-profits are doing the same.

Tonight, we look beyond the vague term "housing affordability" to those with no roof over their head this night, those wondering if they will have one in a month from now, those seriously struggling under the pressure of mortgage repayments and a real risk of joining the homeless, those one in four Sydneysiders who rent knowing they may never own their own home. People in all these situations strive to raise their families with dignity in stable housing convenient for work, school, worship and other community involvements. When they are forced to move again and again, all around our city and beyond, the bonds between generations are broken and there is a serious loss of community.

We are here tonight because we acknowledge that the housing crisis is real, and needs to be addressed for the good of all. We will hear some important ideas about how this might be done through partnership of government, business, charities, churches, unions and others. In particular it will require some big decisions by government and others charged with planning and targets, land releases and developments. May that "Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head" bless all of you with the knowledge and consolation of serving Him in those who are hungry, naked or homeless.