Thursday, April 16, 2015

Opening doors as "the last refuge for the scoundrel" alive in the heart of our city

By Michael J Morris
Some years ago now I was walking along Burrard Street in Vancouver in the early morning hours when I saw across the street from me on one of the churches a huge banner proclaiming, "God is alive in the heart of the city."

I had no problem with the words on the banner, but I immediately thought of the homeless who would be unable to seek refuge there because the doors were locked. Some were sleeping on the steps in front of the church.
Churches have generally kept their doors locked for years now except when open for Sunday services and other stipulated times ostensibly to keep the "bad" people out, whoever they may be.

Perhaps I watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame too many times and looked at the church -- no matter the denomination -- as the last refuge for the scoundrel. At times in my less than perfect life, I have been so grateful when I have found the church door open and I could enter, rest and pray other than on a Sunday.

Shortly after I was elected as the faculty representative to the Board of Governors at College of the Rockies, I convinced Dr Wm Berry Calder, the president, to let me go to Vancouver and look at outreach education programs in the Downtown Lower East Side.

I visited the Carnegie Centre and First United Church right in the heart of the area. I walked from my hotel despite warnings that I should take a cab. It was an overwhelming experience but in the midst of the misery, I met many dedicated people working to make each day a little better for those who had fallen through society's cracks. And yes, the doors of the church were open and some homeless people were resting on the pews. And students were learning too.

I also visited the Gathering Place, a living room for those who need it in downtown Vancouver. There people can get a shower, wash their clothes, have a meal, read, shoot pool, work out it in the fitness centre and get advice and counselling, and of course, just visit and be among people. I have also seen some of the poetry written and art work created by folks at the Gathering Place. Amazing!
The college did not introduce any new programs but to his credit Dr Calder did have a report prepared.

So, you ask, what's my point?

Well, I am really delighted that Street Angel was launched here in Cranbrook. Ktunaxa Nation deserves credit and support.

I wouldn't likely have known about a weekly breakfast served at the Cranbrook United Church, shared by three churches, but I have friends who help with it. Great stuff!

There are other grass roots and "church roots" projects too even if the main doors are not open as much as I would like to see.

Now, lately I have seen more "words chasing words" about the project for the homeless here, but nothing much concrete seems to happen. How about it folks? Other communities, like Medicine Hat claim to be ending homelessness. 

Whatever our circumstances today -- whether we relate best to the citizens of the Downtown Lower East Side in an otherwise beautiful city or are facing the prospect of job loss and foreclosure on a mortgage or are still sitting in a comfortable pew, I am sure there are times when we felt homeless even when we had a place to live.

In these challenging times I believe it is time to throw the doors of the community open so that such banner rings true, "God is alive in the heart of our city" or if you prefer a non religious reference, "We are alive in the heart of our city" -- no matter where we live!

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