Monday, December 04, 2017
Hope for the Homeless
Last week a group of faith leaders in Toronto called upon the municipal government to create more emergency shelter beds for the homeless and indigent in the city. There are an estimated 5,000 homeless people in Toronto, 500 of them "sleep rough" every night, and as many as 100 die each year.
The coalition asked for 400 more supported beds and Mayor John Tory countered with committing to 400 more spaces for the homeless. While this may sound as though the city has agreed to the request, there is a significant difference between established beds with support services such as showers and laundry, and the euphemistic "spaces." The latter often means cramming more people into already inadequate facilities. This over-crowding often results in people in need of shelter returning to the streets because of the tensions which result in untenable circumstances. The faith group has rejected Tory's proposal and continues to advocate for suitable and stable accommodation.
Addressing homelessness is tough. Who are the homeless? Locally a study is happening under the auspices of Bridge St. United Church in Belleville, my former congregation. A working group to address who is homeless in this city of 50,000 was struck under the direction of the capable Steve Van de Hoef, the Food Ministries Coordinator at Bridge St. Steve readily concedes the challenge of identifying the homeless in this community.
There is no homeless shelter in the city, and I happened to be at Belleville City Council when another faith group presented plans for a shelter.The building had been secured and plans were underway for what would be called Grace Inn. On their website there is a heading Why Dignity? and these observations:
Homelessness is, among other things, a series of losses. A loss of a home of course, but often also a loss of relationships, a loss of choices, a loss of safety, a loss of hope. Grace Inn seeks to restore dignity to the difficult experience of homelessness, helping people to feel safe, valued, and empowered.
The plan was to have this shelter open in 2017 but the website now says 2018. The balancing act of funding, permits, and staffing is always a challenging one and housing the homeless just isn't as attractive as other causes.
It may be a cliché to remind ourselves that pregnant Mary and Joseph were without adequate shelter when Jesus came into this world 2,000 years ago, but Christmas in this country coincides with the time of year when the homeless most need these opportunities. God be with all those who endeavor to keep the invisible visible and respond to them with dignity and practical support.