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NBC documentary focuses on poverty, housing

Snapped pine trees and a ruined roof show the wind power of Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.









A UMNS Report by Linda Bloom*

Nov. 8, 2006

For a magnified example of how poverty, housing and a just society are intertwined, take a look at the Gulf Coast.


 Bishop Melvin G. Talbert

That's exactly what United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert has done in his role as chairperson of the Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast for the National Council of Churches.

Talbert is one of the religious and political leaders featured in "Building on Faith: Making Poverty Housing History." The documentary, from the National Council of Churches, will be shown on NBC-TV affiliate stations beginning Dec. 10.

Shirley Struchen, a United Methodist who served as executive producer, is encouraging church members to contact their local NBC stations and ask them to schedule the documentary for broadcast on a specific date between Dec. 10 and June 10.

Talbert told United Methodist News Service he has been "highly frustrated at times" with what has seemed to be the lack of progress, even a year later, in the region's recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Part of the problem has been the devastation of homes and livelihoods.

Bad planning - and the lack of planning - also has been a factor. "People aren't wanting to accept responsibility for the failure on the part of groups to act," he said. "We need to face up to the fact that we all blew it at some point."

The real question, he added, is "what are we going to do now?" After attending an Aug. 19 retreat with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and religious leaders, Talbert said he realized he was being too impatient with the process and had to be prepared to "live with the good and the bad of it." 

He's also optimistic because of ongoing conversations with people and groups in the region. Talbert's brother-in-law, for example, suffered losses from the hurricane but is back in his renovated house and has reopened a business.

But many others don't have the knowledge or the networks needed to achieve affordable housing. That's why needs must be matched with resources, the bishop said.

A basic right

"Building on Faith: Making Poverty Housing History," narrated by broadcast journalist Linda Ellerbee, focuses on the idea that having a safe and secure home is a basic right in a just society.


At Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, members Marionette Changes and Andy Powell pack bags full of produce for distribution to the homeless. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Among those discussing that issue in the hour-long documentary are Jonathan Reckford, chief executive of Habitat for Humanity, and former vice presidential candidates John Edwards and Jack Kemp. Kemp once served as the secretary of Housing and Development.

Various people will share their personal stories about dealing with the high cost of housing, and several leading experts on the topic of affordable housing will speak.

Talbert said the documentary is "essential" because it demonstrates how individuals and families can improve their housing situations and their lives through assistance from groups, including the church, "that take seriously the issue of poverty and housing.

"As the church, there is no option for us," he explained. "Our faith calls us to address the issue of poverty. Closely related to poverty is housing. We can't be silent on this issue."

Also spotlighted in the documentary is Rising Hope United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Va., where the Rev. Keary C. Kincannon is pastor. Rising Hope has a multi-faceted ministry working to solve housing problems.

The church was established in 1996 to bring "spiritual and material relief" to people who live in the area. About 60 percent of its members are homeless or have been homeless at some point.

Other religious leaders featured in the documentary include the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist and the NCC's chief executive; Jim Wallis, president and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal; Mark J. Pelavin, associate director of Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism; Sayyid M. Syeed, national interfaith director of the Islamic Society of North America; Brenda Girton-Mitchell, executive for justice and advocacy, NCC; Sharon Watkins, general moderator, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and Brad Hewitt, senior vice president of fraternal operations, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

Mennonite Media is producer of the program for the NCC as part of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission's partnership with NBC-TV. Viewers can visit to see which stations have scheduled the program to date.

Those without a local listing can call their NBC station to express interest in "Building on Faith" or join with other faith groups to encourage the broadcast or buy time so the station will air the program.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or .

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Scenes from "Building on Faith: Making Poverty Housing History"

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