Archives for posts with tag: Homelessness

It’s 9:30 am. There are four chairs, spaced at least six feet apart in the basement room that has become our ground zero. The staff team, which includes me, Joanna, Pete, and Olivia (our fifth, Meagan is on maternity leave) takes a seat to check-in. We first each take a turn to describe how we are feeling/doing/managing before praying together.

The donations we have received are divided onto different tables: non-perishable food, fresh food, toiletry items (including sanitizer, toilet paper, and hand-sewn masks), containers, clothing, bags (plastic, Ziplock, paper). There is a spot next to the kitchen door for our own Personal Protective Equipment.

We now create bags and bags of groceries. On this day a bag includes potatoes, carrots, beets, celery, a melon, kiwis, avocados, onions, one-litre of milk, a bag of chips, and a box of Kraft Dinner. We lament that there is a box of onions that might need to go to waste, except that later in the day a new friend and volunteer, Brad, offers to salvage them by cleaning off the bad parts in order to create a batch of french onion soup that we can freeze.

Meanwhile, we begin our outdoor set-up. Orange pylons create a lengthy line through the courtyard and onto the sidewalk, all six feet apart. A sandwich board is positioned at the front of the gate, both a way to communicate what time things will begin and keep the space clear for our tables. Two tables are set up just inside the gate: the first is where a person will walk to in order to be greeted and receive food, the second is where the food is run to from just inside the building. This system keeps everyone at a safe distance.

At 11 am our friend Natasha arrives on her bike, bringing with her a delivery of homemade and individually wrapped baked goods and another bag of hand-sewn masks from Patty. Natasha and Patty would typically be in our kitchen prepping food at our Monday Drop-In. They, along with some of our other volunteers, have been supporting us by baking, sewing and gathering additional donations. We have a quick check-in outside in the sun.

At noon I receive a call that the 75 prepared meals which have been gifted to us are ready and will arrive in about ten minutes. We head out to receive the delivery and place everything in the lobby of the building. This brings us closer to 1 pm, the time we open for the community. The last rush is to bring everything up the two short staircases from our space: the groceries, a basket of masks, a box of cilantro (since we know people have a love/hate relationship with it, we figured we would ask who might like a bunch), Ziplock bags of dog food for those with a furry friend, and some extra plastic bags.

Though our start time is 1 pm it is not unusual to have a line forming much earlier. Today this is the case, which leads to a conversation about possibly opening earlier. We decide to hold off until about 12:50 pm. We each get freshly masked and gloved, before determining who goes to what post: the table to distribute food alongside a volunteer, the gate to monitor the front of the line, the sidewalk to ensure that people are lined up well, the end of the line to offer a goodbye and help carrying things around the corner to Queen Street. Wherever we are, we want everyone to feel welcomed and cared for, even if just over a brief conversation.

By 1:31 pm all of the food has been distributed.

Between 2 and 2:30 pm more friends arrive to pick up thirteen bags of groceries and meals to deliver to community members able to shelter-in-place. Sheila and Ross have been doing these deliveries for weeks and have an established routine. We help load everything into their vehicle.

It’s now 3 pm and we are doing the last bit of clean-up in the space. Door handles, tables, taps, etc. are all sprayed with a disinfectant. We don’t leave garbage, compost or recycling in the space, so it is ready to be carried out as we turn off the lights and lock up.

As happy as we are to be working in this way, there is a grief that accompanies this kind of modified Monday. We miss long conversations around a table, preparing a meal with the community in a bustling kitchen, passing the shared platter of food, making music together, and embracing one another. People can’t even see us smiling from behind our masks- though I do keep greeting people with, “can you see me smiling with my eyes?”

As we disperse for the day, we don’t get to say goodbye to one another with our typical hugs. Instead, we each stretch out an arm and say, “GO TEAM”! Together, we are responding to the COVID crisis. It might look very different than our norm, but we’re glad that it still feels like The Dale.

I recently spoke at a regional gathering of a network of people known as StreetLevel. Some people asked if I would share the same words here…

On a sunny day in June, nearly two years ago, I had to pull down the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC) sign from both the gate and door at 201 Cowan Avenue. For me, this act made things official: PNC no longer had its own building. That was the day we became a church without our own walls. I like to say it was when we “spilled into the streets”.

Fast forward to the present. Parkdale Neighbourhood Church is now known as The Dale Ministries. You might wonder why we would seemingly shift away from “church” by changing our name. As an organization we don’t function as a traditional church institution, for instance, we are not made self-sufficient based on tithing. Our people give, they just give out of very little. We came exceedingly close to ceasing to exist because of this. Playing with the language that had become a barrier to our long-term stability was worth it. At the beginning of our search for a new name, I asked our community members to describe what PNC meant to them. Though there were many descriptors used, the number one word was “safe”. A dale is a valley that cuts through a mountain, the place where one hides when facing a storm. Every day The Dale Ministries, or more often simply The Dale, endeavours to be a safe community for many, including me.

We are a varied group: some of us live rough outside, some in community housing and some in houses of our own. Some of us are struggling with addiction to street drugs or alcohol or television or eating too much food. Some of us have diagnosed mental health challenges that range from depression to schizophrenia. Some of us are refugees. Some of us are seniors. You get the picture. All of us are broken. We choose again and again to journey alongside one another toward deeper wholeness in Christ. We choose to be church. For The Dale this journey continues without a building of our own.

To be honest, I was relieved when the move out of our former space was finally done. The amount of “stuff” that had accumulated was, at least for me, astonishing. As we purged almost all of our belongings and packed just a few, I became thankful for the freedom from things. I also became admittedly overwhelmed, occasionally stressed and rather emotional. During that time I remember reading this: “You gain confidence through knowing that I am with you- that you face nothing alone. Anxiety stems from asking the wrong question: ‘If such and such happens, can I handle it?’ The true question is not whether you can cope with whatever happens, but whether you and I can handle anything that occurs.”

Becoming under-housed was an opportunity for me to discover if I was asking the right question. This was truly scary, for as right as I believe it was to move, it meant entering a time of unknown, of in between, of newness. In response to the question, “what is something that makes you sad?” one of our youngest community members drew a picture of many stick people carrying a large box. She said she felt sad that the people were carrying away her church. It was indeed what was happening in the eyes of that little person.

It was important to honour that sadness. I didn’t want to belittle the magnitude of the change. I joined with others in weeping. I also had to persist in announcing that as a community we could exist outside of a building. Today I am here to say we are still a community and that yes, though “church” is no longer in our name, we very much function as one. We continue to gather; to support; to create; to eat together; to question; to pray; to worship; to dance; to love.

By spilling into the streets we more fully inhabit our neighbourhood. By knocking on the doors of our neighbours we have found space (though it sometimes revolves) to run our programs: in churches, in stores, in community AND health centres- space that we don’t have keys for, but that costs us nothing. We have the opportunity to be shown hospitality at the same time as giving it. How beautiful is that?

Henri Nouwen once said, “Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared. When we remember that, we may be able to say, ‘I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it’…Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.”

In the context of this little struggling church community I am/we are reminded of God’s presence. God has seen fit to multiply the loaves and the fishes in Parkdale and I mean this literally. On days when there was no money to purchase food for our drop-in we somehow had full plates. I am no longer the only staff- we are the Dale girls: Erinn and Joanna, surrounded by a community that has heard the invitation into full participation. Two years into this wild experiment we still exist! We are HERE. And we’re thriving.

My love for the church, my love for The Dale, is a true love.

Dale Ministries Logo-1

 

 

 

Our homelessness was born out of necessity and is now one of our greatest gifts. This is the story I need to tell about The Dale.

During the early summer of 2012 The Dale moved out of what had been our home for years. We didn’t have anywhere to go, except we knew we must continue to gather as a community. I recall saying, “if we have to, we’ll host our drop-in in the park” and I meant it.

Since that time we have found new places to gather around the neighbourhood. Relationship and partnership have sustained and strengthened us. Various organizations generously opened their doors, including: St Francis Table, Sketch, Parkdale Community Health Centre, The Jeremiah Community, Epiphany and St Mark Anglican and Bonar Parkdale Presbyterian Church. We got creative and decided to meet in unexpected places such as the back of The Salvation Army Thrift Store. A home also known as Junia House became a meeting place and occasional host to Board meetings and even baking parties. We wander the streets, visit on park benches and frequent a large number of coffee shops. We host a Bible Study in a Coffee Time which has generously waived the maximum loitering limit. We are, in a word, mobile. This mobility means that the neighbourhood knows us in a whole new way and us, it.

With this in mind, it has become clear that the next step for The Dale does not include finding a building large enough to fit everything we do. We are dreaming about maybe a storefront or a small Winnebago. Either way, we will remain committed to being a presence that roams. By being a church without our own walls we have increased our visibility and yes, our viability. The money we save by not having to manage the general upkeep and day-to-day costs of a building is huge. Instead, we can use it to staff and run programming that directly impacts our community. With additional money we can do more of the same.

Are there challenges? Absolutely. I don’t carry keys (other than a few internal ones) to a single building that we use. Our storage is minimal. People need to remember where to find us on any given day. I will be the first to admit that some days my own optimism gets worn down by these limitations. Though I suspect everyone can, to some degree, relate to that feeling. The truth is, these cons pale in comparison to the very real pros of our situation, which include that our friends who know transience see that we have learned about it too; that we are working together with more and more groups; that we know our neighbours better, including residents, store owners and even the police; that we do a lot with very little.

Homelessness is not something I would hope for anyone. I long to see its end. I am grateful that The Dale can stand alongside so many who are under-housed in a different kind of solidarity now because of our own limited experience. In that sense, our homelessness is a gift. I believe too that it has led us to a clarity of vision and mission. We survived a terrible crisis and are stronger now. We are here to thrive.