Neighbours checking on neighbours can save lives.
The changing climate is inducing extreme weather events that are increasing in frequency and severity and causing havoc and devastation in many of our communities. Across urban centres, our most vulnerable neighbours are the least prepared to tackle such emergencies. Typically, they do not have access to necessary supplies and are unable to remove themselves from a harmful situation because of constraints that include health problems, mobility concerns and a lack of social networks. Governments can’t tackle these vast problems alone. Because caring is in our DNA — with outreach programs regularly being run by strong networks of committed volunteers — faith communities can help. We can assist our local municipalities to prepare neighbours for potential extreme weather events.
Since 2015, Faith & the Common Good (FCG) has been taking action concerning the urgent need for neighbourhood-based extreme weather preparedness and resilience with a specific focus on vulnerable populations. Engaging diverse faith groups as well as local stakeholders (such as municipal staff, neighbourhood associations, advocacy and environmental groups and so on), our projects and programs aim at increasing community understanding, capacity, and action around how we can work together to support one another in preparing for and adapting to extreme weather.
|Asset mapping. St John's Lutheran church, Hamilton
|Planting a food forest. Shri Ram Dham Temple, Kitchener
FCG has experimented with various models such as our 2018 pilot project in the GTHA, to create climate resilience hubs of local faith communities as well as working with the City of Brampton’s Emergency Management Office for the Lighthouse Project that trained over 22 faith communities to be first responders. These pilot projects have inspired broader action.
One non-profit partner, Community Resilience to Extreme Weather (CREW) continues to engage locals and community groups that act with faith communities to prepare high-rise residents with phone trees and checklists. Another group – OakvilleReady – has organized a network of weather resilience hubs across the Halton region.
Ultimately, if you are a faith community, you can do something to help the community you serve, with anything from acting as a cooling or warming centre, offering beverages and phone charging stations, serving as a communications hub, facilitating network opportunities to support training sessions, helping with outreach activities and workshops, sharing resources and volunteers to installing high-end equipment such as generators and food preparation facilities.
OakvilleReady is a collective initiative composed of team members from The Town of Oakville, Halton Environmental Network, and Faith & the Common Good. Local faith-based stakeholders (OakvilleReady Hub locations) include: Church of the Incarnation, Forestview, Kerr Street Mission, Knox Presbyterian Church, Maple Grove United, Shaarei-Beth El, St. Cuthbert Anglican Church, St. Paul’s United.
The idea is to utilize neighbourhood, faith-based buildings as ‘resiliency hubs’ – places where community members can go to find safe haven and reprieve from extreme heat or cold, but also spaces to learn about weather preparedness by building climate-ready infrastructure, both social and physical. These could include anything from teaching participants personal preparedness and how to build a 72 hour go-kit, to establishing community gardens that counter food insecurity. OakvilleReady works with faith and community groups, and the town of Oakville.
The Lighthouse Project (2017 - 2018) used community engagement strategies to promote local multi-stakeholder networks or resilience hubs, contributing to extreme weather preparedness: before, during and after an event. This pilot explored how local, social infrastructure could prepare residents in under-resourced urban environments for climate-related stresses and extreme weather emergencies in the three cities of Hamilton, Toronto and Brampton.
Brampton’s Emergency Managers offered training to volunteers from diverse faith-based organizations to enable them to be part of the City’s emergency response as refuge hubs. In Hamilton, our project partners were Environment Hamilton, an environmental organization and we explored how its existing networks could form around social resilience. In Toronto, we worked with Community to Extreme Weather Resilience (CREW) and a community organizer who undertook network building to support mostly newcomer populations in the inner city neighbourhood of the Saint James Tower (SJT) community.
As a result of the pilot, a residents’ working group was established in Toronto to address neighbour wellbeing and emergency response in one SJT apartment tower. In Hamilton, a multi-stakeholder network emerged to support the climate preparedness of agencies serving local vulnerable populations. Community Resilience To Extreme Weather, CREW Hamilton created a network throughout Hamilton, beginning with the Beasley neighbourhood. CREW Hamilton explored the potential for this network designed to support its members, who in turn would support the people they serve, to be prepared for weather-related emergencies. Members of the network contributed their unique expertise towards a plan for a neighbourhood response to extreme weather. This project engaged not only diverse faith groups, but also advocacy and social service groups, the Public Library, Public Health and Planning Departments. Efforts led to the creation of Climate Ready Hamilton (CRH) with the support of McMaster University Semester in Residence (CityLab) students who developed communication materials and participated in asset mapping.
Read a 2020 paper co-authored by one of the project animators: Neighbourhood climate resilience: lessons from the Lighthouse Project
Proof of Concept (2015 - 2016) Resilient Communities = Connected Communities
With support from Live Green Toronto , Olive Tree Foundation, Evergreen CityWorks, Wellbeing Toronto, City of Toronto’s Environment & Energy Division, City of Toronto's Office of Emergency Management and the University of Toronto’s Geography & Planning department, we conducted a 2015 proof of concept project to understand how Toronto’s diverse faith communities could be better utilized as local service centers during extreme weather emergencies. The project featured a year-long, in-depth assessment of diverse faith pilot sites across the city as well as public workshops, asset mapping, emergency preparation training, cross sector collaboration, and resource development. This pilot lead to the 2017-2018 Lighthouse Project (see above).
What did we learn?
Neighbourhoods are most resilient when residents know each other, have multiple active networks, care for their vulnerable neighbours and have committed and tangible external supports.
That is why our on-going extreme weather resilience work is focused on building a "social infrastructure" for climate response. Faith communities have important roles to play in helping to curate community "resilience hubs" where residents feel welcome, animated, and willing to stay and contribute.
Check out our 2015 Toronto-area case studies to see the wide variety of local partnerships that diverse places of faith established to increase the climate resilience of their neighborhoods. The following video also provides a glimpse of one of the early community engagement workshops that was held as part of our 2015 Toronto pilot to help connect communities.
Working together to leverage these shared assets on behalf of our most vulnerable should be an important part of our local climate response plans.
Municipalities and traditional emergency response actors are struggling to meet the overwhelming needs of simply maintaining critical infrastructure in the face of these unprecedented stresses. Too frequently, our most vulnerable community members are left without sufficient support.
How can my faith community get started?
Faith groups can add great value to local emergency response structures. They are typically the first ones in and last ones to leave. They possess a shared sacred calling around community service and care for the Earth. They offer local community connections, volunteer mobilization, and locally relevant resources that can enhance response and recovery effectiveness.
Faith & the Common Good’s Extreme Weather Tool Kit will help your faith group think through the essential components of an extreme weather response plan.
It provides some great resources to help you engage with municipal and community partners, including sample letters and power point presentation slides.
While the toolkit is tailored for faith groups in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who want to support their most vulnerable community members better withstand extreme weather emergencies, it can easily be adapted to your location and or community organization.
Join our shared learning network
Faith & the Common Good and its collaborative partners across the country are building a community of practice to enhance community resilience to extreme weather.
Want to join our conversations? Send an email to [email protected] to be included on our on-going training and shared learning.
Keep scrolling through this page! We have case studies and resources for how faith-based groups can provide extreme weather support locally.
FCG in the News
It takes a community to weather a storm December 2021
Faith-based groups answered the call when tragedy struck December 2021