When The Dale gave up its own space a decade ago, one of the first questions people asked was: where are we going to go? A legit wondering. At the time, I didn’t yet know. Fortunately, the weather was improving and so I said, “if we have to, we’ll have drop-in at the park”. I also started to knock on the doors of buildings around the neighbourhood to see if there might be a willingness to open those doors to us. That was the beginning of inhabiting Parkdale in a new way.
People often ask me if we would now buy a building if we could. While I acknowledge there are definite cons to not having a space of our own, the pros outweigh them. Does that mean I am anti-building? No, absolutely not. The Dale relies on the buildings of our partners to do a lot of what we love. Also, I never want to belittle the importance of “place” for the many members of our community who do not have any to call their own. By not investing in the purchase of a building, The Dale can pour our resources very directly into what we do, while also supporting those who share property with us.
When The Dale spilled into the streets, we had the opportunity to learn from our core community about what it means to be transient. This was very important, especially for someone like me who, despite my proximity to people who are under-housed, have always had somewhere to lay my head. We also re-discovered the truth that the church is not a building. One Dale member would regularly remind me that, “we are living stones. Where we gather is less important than THAT we gather.”
I appreciate the pedagogy of my friend Jason McKinney around the power of property and the need to shift from having to holding. Jason’s church, Epiphany and St. Mark is the only building currently open to The Dale due to the pandemic (we trust our other partners will begin to re-open as the pandemic continues to settle). I see how he and his church are navigating away from the paradigm of property to the paradigm of commons, in other words they are helping create a community hub. The Dale is one of a number of organizations that reside at and co-create in 201 Cowan Avenue. I know the desire is to continue to grow in the way we all relate to and negotiate with land- land that was not ours to begin with. Together we are discovering how to deepen our responsibility and care for the ground we stand on.
Which is also why it is so important that The Dale’s largest presence is outdoors. When we were permanently housed the people had to come inside to find us. Now we go outside to find our people and it is where they know to look for us. It matters that we get rained and snowed on together, that we can share a snack in the park, that we can slow down and linger for chats anywhere along the street, that we can grow things in our community garden plot. We move from observation of the neighbourhood to participation in it.
Is this an easy way to operate? Not always. Is it messy? For sure. I can honestly say though that not having a building, which was definitely born out of crisis, has turned into one of our greatest gifts. Also true is that becoming a part of a larger community hub, both at Epiphany and St Mark and in other spaces around the neighbourhood, one of our greatest joys. We get to witness amazing things happening all over the place and grow in our awareness that love is present all around us: in and out of a building.