What do you think of when you imagine a priest or deacon offering pastoral care? Certainly, in my nineteen years of ordained ministry, I have attended to people in all sorts of needs. I have accompanied people young and old, with a very wide range of questions on their hearts. But in 2017 in Watertown, Massachusetts, the most frequent call, email, or conversation I am asked to respond to is housing insecurity.
Rents are exorbitant. Buying a house in Watertown is no mean feat. My congregation continues to loose young families who cannot afford to live in Watertown anymore so move farther from Boston to buy a house. The loss of a job, a mental or physical illness, disability, aging, a change in marital status, a thumbs-down from the immigration office, taking on the care of an elder — all of these can send someone into a housing tailspin. Most people have no idea where to turn.
On Thursday, I was blessed to hear a presentation by Brian Costello, Executive Director of the Watertown Housing Authority, who led the Board of the Marshall Home Fund on a tour of the E. Joyce Munger Apartments, one of five facilities managed by the WHA. Brian shared some amazing, important statistics with us:
- WHA offers 745 opportunities to live in safe, decent, affordable housing for low income individuals.
- 75-80% of the WHA operating cost is covered by residents, 80% of whom work.
- Last year, the WHA had a record-low vacancy rate, and it now has a waiting list of 2,000 applicants.
I was deeply moved by Brian Costello’s attention to detail, respect for the dignity of the people housed by the WHA, Job-like patience, and fierce conviction that public housing is a wise investment. His work is at least as pastoral as mine.
There is no collect for housing in the Book of Common Prayer. So here’s a stab at a prayer for the countless people in our region unsure where to lay their heads.
O God our refuge, we hold before you all those who are housing insecure. Lead them to the resources they need, and watch over them as they navigate processes that are hard to understand and inadequate to their need. Move the hearts and minds of those in positions of public trust to invest in new housing, so that all may abide in peace, in this world and the next. Amen.