We Might Not Have Walls, But We Have WHEELS!

Today is an exciting day. Today we picked up our new outreach vehicle, a purchase made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Today we further embrace that we are a community without our own building. We might not have walls, but we have wheels!

The Dale builds and supports relationships with people, many of whom are accustomed to being marginalized due to poverty, and all of its resulting challenges. During the COVID-19 pandemic we are taking action to ensure that people with these vulnerabilities receive tangible care in the form of food, supplies (including PPE, sleeping bags, blankets, etc.) and emotional care (phone calls, physically distant visits, etc.) 

COVID-19 has exposed how great the social divide is in this city and throughout our world. People who are under-housed have lost regular access to basic necessities. As an organization without our own building, The Dale has to creatively respond to our community’s needs, especially as we face the second wave of the virus, and winter. Of the five partner buildings that The Dale uses for its programming, only one has remained open through the pandemic. As a result, The Dale has identified the need to focus on outdoor outreach, including creating “drop-in” spaces around the neighbourhood by setting up chairs and outdoor heaters. By doing this we will be able to nurture relationships, discern people’s ongoing needs, and distribute food and supplies.

In keeping with The Dale’s philosophy, the emphasis will be on service provision that is rooted in relationship. We believe that this van offers:

Increased flexibility in terms of where to run a drop-in.

Increased capacity to assist community members with moving into housing. 

Increased capacity for pick-up and delivery of food and other resources. 

Increased visibility for The Dale around the neighbourhood. 

While this decision has been prompted by COVID-19, we know a vehicle will offer long-term benefit to The Dale (in fact, it has been a long-time dream). We have prioritized outdoor outreach since 2012, during which we have built a high level of trust with the community. Our commitment to being present on the street-level has been deeply held for years and will continue with or without a pandemic. 

We are grateful to our donor, Nigel at Formula Ford Lincoln Sales, and Pierre at AON Insurance (thank you all for answering my limitless questions) for bringing this project to life. Now to work, but first we celebrate!

The Consecration of a Person’s Poverty

She’s small in stature, with piercing eyes and wavy hair that, as she describes it, has a mind of its own. It is not uncommon to see her roaming around Parkdale, usually looking for help in the form of money or cigarettes. Some days are harder for her than others. The desperation that is likely always present internally, comes leaking out and manifests itself in wildly frantic behaviour. On a recent sunny Thursday though she was lucid and simply looking for a coffee.

We have recently started blocking every Thursday morning for outreach, which for us means we walk around the neighbourhood and connect with people along the way. Joanna, Meagan and I are enjoying being outside and are feeling thankful that Kirti, a case worker/counsellor from Parkdale Community Health Centre is joining us each week. Sometimes we chat with community members of The Dale, sometimes we meet new people, sometimes we intervene in difficult situations, sometimes we strategize with Kirti about how to help someone find housing or treatment or whatever support they might need, and sometimes, in the case of our friend I have just described, we provide a coffee.

With the drink in hand, she settled onto a small ledge jutting out from a storefront and said, “Do you think God sees everything I go through? Do you think God sees me? I mean, look at what I have gone through. Does God see ME?” Meeting her gaze, I fought back tears and said, “I believe God does.” She went on to describe much of her life: how it began with a desire to be a nurse, but spiralled out due to multiple traumatic experiences, many of which are too difficult to describe here. Poverty, a mental health diagnosis, and the loss of a child to the system have all contributed to her pain.

“People don’t see me you know. Or when they do they only see my dirty fingernails and messy hair. They can’t see past it. I’m not loveable in their eyes. But we are so much more than our outsides you know.” Yes, I told her, you are so right. I found myself thinking of the Beatitudes as I continued to listen. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount says things like, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn. What does that mean for this friend?

The origin of the word ‘bless’ meant to consecrate and speak well of, most often used toward God. Viewed through this lens, the Beatitudes reveal how God consecrates things like our poverty and grief. God holds up and makes blessed those who are poor and broken, revealing them as precious and having connection to Him. Similarly, when we seek peace, when we show mercy, when we mourn and when we are meek, God is connected to us. In this way there is not an absence of God in life’s greatest challenges.

This woman has already endured more than many people will in a lifetime. I don’t understand the disproportionate distribution of challenge. And yet, when I look in her eyes and listen to her story, I am struck by the wisdom she carries. While sipping on her coffee, she spoke significant truth about the condition of humankind, love, and grace. It became time for Joanna, Meagan, Kirti, and I to move on, but before we did I thanked her for being so open and said, “you are loved”. To which she replied, “I think God does see me. I even think God views me as special.”



Here to Thrive

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.

Reason 1001

While sitting in the Tim Horton’s during our outreach time last night I noticed them taking notice of us.

Two young-ish (I’m terrible with age) men were clearly perplexed by The Dale team engaging with so many people who, as they put it, are “homeless”. It was so cold last night that the coffee shop was pretty full. We got to say hello to more than a couple of community friends.

I was waiting close to the door when one of the guys piped up and asked, “what exactly are you doing?”. I introduced myself and talked about what we do at The Dale. Apparently they had seen us the week before giving out what seemed to be money to the same person over and over again, felt concerned and thought about intervening on our behalf. I was pleased to explain the money in question was actually tokens and that we know well the fellow receiving them.

I ended up having a really positive conversation with two people who are no longer strangers.

This is reason number one thousand and ONE that I love being a church without walls. For those of you new to The Dale’s journey, we do not have a building of our own. We instead spend time in buildings around the neighbourhood and outside. These two people would likely have never met us had we not decided to hang out at 9 pm in Tim Horton’s on a blisteringly cold night, nor would they have considered speaking to anyone who they would identify as homeless.

Next week we’ll buy them a coffee and introduce them to a few people.

I love it.