William James Pearson penned this very famous Salvation Army hymn in the late 1800’s, shortly after the organization was founded. But early Salvationists knew then what they know now; ‘joy’ is not the same thing as ‘happiness’. The world is full of pain and suffering and it touches us both personally and professionally.
The Salvation Army Toronto Housing and Homeless Supports
Now that it’s February, we switch our attention to the missional theme of the month; LOVE. We chose ‘love’ for February because Valentine’s Day falls on February 14th. It’s a time where we intentionally express our love and appreciation for our partners, families and our friends.
This is that weekend when we find ourselves both reflecting on how fast the summer blew by and also planning for new fall season beginnings (school, church, work, etc). For me, this Labour Day weekend of reflection and preparation seems multiplied by a gazillion. There’s so much that I’m leaving behind and there’s also so much to prepare for.
Usually when summer arrives and winter is officially behind us, it’s a symbol of a time to come up for air, take a deep breath, and enjoy the slower pace of life and work for a couple of months.
But when you’re homeless, there’s no such thing as summer holidays.
There are no cottage plans.
No vacations to exotic destinations.
No long weekends.
In the streets it is business as usual. And at Gateway we are finding that to be true as well. We are very busy. There is much to do.
Here are some updates as to what we’re currently up to in order to do our best to respond to the needs and hopes of our friends on the streets;
1. All of the shelters in Toronto have been full since July of last year. So we have been asked to open 10 more beds, taking our total number of beds per night to 118. As space is an issue for us, we have purchased bunk beds and installed 5 of them on each floor of our dorms. We are now officially a 118-bed shelter and are still full and very busy.
2. 10 extra beds bring a domino effect with it that must be taken into consideration. With those beds comes extra revenue from our funder. But it also brings extra pressure on our building, our food and laundry services, and our staff. So with that extra revenue we will be hiring a 3rd case manager, which will be a dramatic improvement on our capacity to respond to our residents more comprehensively. As we don’t have an office for that case manager, we are renovating a little corner of our building in order to house that new employee. This is very exciting for us but is keeping us on our toes.
3. We also want to improve the condition of our drop-in and its washrooms. Right now they look worn down and institutional due to all of the traffic that we get every single day. So we have submitted a funding proposal in hopes of being able to replace the drop-in floor to make it look and feel warmer and less institutional. We are also hoping to renovate our drop-in washrooms so as to create a more dignified space to take care of the most basic of human needs.
4. Our Gateway Linens program is looking to expand. We have a proposal in for a very large contract that, if we get it, will double our whole program over night. It would take us to a 2nd 8-hour shift, add twice as many staff, and double the number of people we can train in our program.
5. I’m very pleased about the addition of our new volunteer coordinator/ community life director and newest member of our program management team, Jake Aikenhead. Since his arrival, we have organized and played in a softball tournament, are running a dental hygiene clinic, host Friday night games nights, developing a monthly concert series, planning an arts group, and are getting ready for our summer residents retreat up north. He is an exciting addition to our team.
These are just a few of the things we are up to that are keeping us very busy, to say the least. It is indeed a very hot summer. If you’re the praying type, we could definitely use your prayers in the coming weeks as we wait to hear from proposals, renovate spaces, and keep the Gateway moving steadily onwards towards our mission to be
‘THE HAND OF GOD IN THE HEART OF THE CITY’.
Well it’s pretty clear I can’t seem to find a regular blogging rhythm. The last time I was here it was the middle of winter. Now it’s late spring, the snow is all gone (knock on wood), the flowers are blooming, and summer is imminent. (Though I’m still wearing a sweater lest I freeze. But I refuse to wear pants in June no matter what. It’s just a rule of mine. This is a ‘shorts only’ zone until at least September)
Anyhoo, on this night I, as per usual, am full of random and arbitrary thoughts. So instead of honing in on one of them I thought I’d just throw a bunch of them out there.
1. Politics. This city is ripe with political insanity right now. Our mayor is making international news. He is a lightning rod of divisiveness. There’s no way to remain ambivalent as to how to feel about him. And on a national and provincial scale, stories of corruption and backroom deals abound. As a Christian, I’m convinced that I shouldn’t get sucked into believing there are only 2 sides to these political squabbles. Rather than believing the lie that there’s only the ‘right’ or the ‘left’, I need to stick to my belief that there’s a 3rd way- the Jesus Way. His politics never change. There is no pendulum that shifts. His way doesn’t refer to people as merely ‘taxpayers’ but as ‘citizens’-implying that we are all in this thing together as equals; created in the image of the Creator and Preserver of all things. Created as His beloved children regardless of how much tax we pay. This view changes everything about our politics.
2. Social enterprise. I had the privilege of visiting a brand new program today on its opening day. It’s called ‘Switchback’ and is a bike shop in the downtown core that hires folks who are on or close to the streets. It’s just down the street from our social enterprise at Gateway which we call Gateway Linens. These ideas fall in line with this 3rd way I’m referring to above. The Jesus way seems to be one where we create and provide opportunities for ALL people to find meaningful work for meaningful pay and not get lost in corporate greed where ‘the bottom line’ is the god that gets worshiped.
3. Health. My health is fading. Fast. I am really struggling to walk. I use a cane for everything now. I have a walker. I use a mobility scooter for anything over a city block in distance. MS is kicking my ass. I’m gaining weight and turning into a blob because I can’t exercise like I used to and can’t seem to stop eating. It’s getting brutal. I’ve just been outfitted for leg braces to help me walk. I have to undergo a driving test in the next few weeks to prove that I am still fit to drive. I got assessed for wheeltrans (transit that will pick me up from my home instead of having to use the subway which I can no longer do) and will find out in 10 days if I qualify (I was told by the assessor that I’d be a no brainer decision). I’m going for a comprehensive physio-nutrition-psychological assessment at Toronto rehab on Tuesday morning for help with all of those areas in hopes of bettering my options for exercise and weight control.
I am disabled.
I never dreamed this would be me. It is difficult; not just on me but on my family.
But I’m still trying. I have an awesome job that I can still do even if/when I end up in a wheelchair. I have a wonderful family. I have a cool bike that I can pedal with my arms. I have an electric bike that I love to ride to and from work. I have amazing friends who see pass my sickness. I have a church that I love.
And I have the Jesus way. This way doesn’t make everything easier. It just helps to make things in this very screwed up, messy, complicated world make a little more sense.
So I guess my thoughts aren’t all that random after all…
Gateway Linens, a ministry of the Salvation Army, is a job training centre in Toronto that helps homeless men find meaningful work by teaching them the tools of the laundry and linen industry. After the men graduate, they are guaranteed full time work at K-Bro Linen Systems, a local linen company that’s teamed up with the Salvation Army to help fight homelessness.