by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you attend Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and what was your major?
John: I attended St. Mary’s from 1997-2001 with a Major in Finance.
Gordon: When did you attend Atlantic School of Theology and in what field did you earn your Master's Degree?
John: I studied part time for a number of years at Atlantic School of Theology as part of my continuing education as I worked for the Archdiocese. I actually don’t remember which year I graduated, and my diploma is still in the cardboard tube it came in! The degree is a Masters of Arts in Theology and Religious Studies.
Gordon: When did you work at Scotiabank, and what were your primary responsibilities?
John: I worked for Scotiabank for almost two years after graduating university. I had two primary roles, first as a Credit Office then as a Relationship Manager. Both were in the Commercial banking division.
Gordon: When did begin serving as Youth Coordinator at the Archdiocese of Halifax and what did your enjoy most about your work?
John: I began working with the Archdiocese in January of 2004. I had, and still have really, a passion for serving young people and seeing them come into relationship with Christ. Being able to have a front row seat to so many of those transformations is a source of great joy and inspiration for me. While there are many large moments, such leading groups to three World Youth Days (Germany, Australia, and Spain) and bringing the first Steubenville Youth Conference to Canada, it has been seeing the Spirit work in many small quiet moments that is most enjoyable.
Gordon: When did you start serving as Manager, Office of Pastoral Life & New Evangelization at the Archdiocese of Halifax and what are your primary responsibilities
John: This role evolved around 2012 when Archbishop Emeritus Mancini established the Office of Pastoral Life & New Evangelization following a profound Pentecost Pastoral Letter. The responsibilities are varied as our office coordinates and supports the pastoral and missionary efforts of our parishes through catechesis, communications, youth ministry, evangelization, and other areas. The primary work of the past few years has been in parish renewal as we undertook a large reorganization of the archdiocese to better equip ourselves for the mission of the church.
Gordon: Please share with our readers the major challenges of homelessness in the Archdiocese of Halifax and how they are being addressed by your organization.
John: Archbishop Dunn named homelessness as one of our four pastoral priorities. This was in response to a growing need to help those who are unhoused in our province. When we started looking at the statistics in late 2021 there were approximately 400 unhoused people in the province. Since then the number has grown to nearly 600. One of our parishes had a small initiative to house one person in a temporary shelter. Seeing the success of that initiative we undertook a plan to expand that service to additional parish sites. The initial response was strong, and after a period of negotiation with local municipalities we eventually constructed 20 emergency shelters at 14 parish sites (each having 1, 2, or 3 units). The shelters are small 8x8 cabins with heat, air conditioning, and electricity with USB charge ports built in. The initial construction cost of each unit was approximately $11,500 and we added air circulation and air conditioning systems to make them suitable for summer use – they are built for Canadian winters so are very warm by design.
Our original plan was to provide temporary winter accommodations and finish the project in May or June of 2022. However, as the need was expanding and the waiting lists for affordable housing were so long we decided to extend the project. In June 2022 we hired a full time Emergency Shelters Coordinator who is working directly with our twenty guests to help them move into more secure housing. This involves navigating different social services organizations, obtaining appropriate identification, applying for income assistance, and other forms of support.
Gordon: If you were the Homeless Advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, what advice would you give him to reduce homelessness?
John: One thing I learned is that homelessness is very complex, and people have very different reasons for finding themselves unhoused. There is an overall housing affordability issue in Canada that means even those with jobs and stable incomes cannot afford home ownership. This creates an intense lack of supply as even new constructions are priced incredibly high. Federal and Provincial policies can, and should, deal with that side of the equation. However, at a more personal level I see a also strong connection to homelessness and mental health. There are many people who, even if there was housing and money available, could not function day-to-day without support. Therefore, I would also advocate for a much bigger investment in supportive housing as well.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview ands helping our readers gain some insights into homelessness.