It’s getting cold, I thought two days after the first major storm of the year. I exited my warm car zipping up as I headed for my shift. I heard desperate banging through the snow flurries as I rounded the church parking lot. I squinted through the snow and saw her pounding on the main church doors. She was like an apparition appearing “Can I hep you?” I called.
She turned around and I saw her. A young woman, hair dishevelled, a bit wild eyed, a combination of fear and a bit of detachment. She was wearing pyjama bottoms a fall jacket and inadequate shoes. She had no bag not even a purse. She looked very frail, cold and vulnerable. “I need the Warming Room”, is all she said.
“I’m a volunteer there.” I said, “Doors don’t open till 8:30 but go to that door then and you will be safe.”
I proceed to attend my shift wondering about her story. I’ve heard so many. People forced on to the street with no good options. Often suffering from mental health issues, or addictions, their families or friends had enough of them and forced them out. Sometimes it’s because of abuse and they are forced to leave to maintain their own sanity or safety. So many stories everyone of them sad and ending up with someone on our doorstep. Last resort shelter they call us. First step to a new start I like to think.
I set up beds and chairs for the night and sure enough at 8:30 she arrived shivering, cold seeking shelter for the night. We got her some warm chilli, bread and something to drink. I made some small talk. She had just been kicked out of her place several hours prior. With no where to go she had been wandering the streets. A suspicious man in a car had stopped to talk to her. I told her this area was notorious for prostitution and that might be what he was seeking. “I have no where to go” she said.
“I know but for tonight you will be safe.”
And she was.
The story is not really that uncommon. I would say several people show up out of the blue every week. Later that night a second young woman was dropped by police onto the doorstep. Later I reflected on the encounter.. Really that was all she needed in the moment, to be told she would be safe.
As a volunteer sometimes it seems we are just putting in hours but what we do is really important. No, we don’t make the headlines but I have no doubt that together we prevent tragic stories and yes, tragic headlines.
We are always grateful for our Partners in Meals and for our Partners in Food, but during this transition time we are even more thankful for their unwavering presence and support. If you are involved in one of our partnerships or are a financial contributor, thank you very, very much – especially this month as we find our feet. We at One Roof Community Diner are very conscious of your presence, work, and gifts and we are humbled and grateful. Thank you.
That is it, Diners. If you haven’t yet done so, please drop by and visit us in our new digs. Remember, doors open at 4:30 and dinner is served at 5:30.
See you there! Until then,
One of our volunteers, Matt Toll (who often volunteers with his wife Meaghan), is in a band called The Adjustments. The Adjustments have a gig at The Venue in Peterborough on this Saturday afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00. Part of the proceeds from the gig are going to support One Roof. Go check ’em out!
Here’s a link to their album B Sides. https://theadjustments.bandcamp.com/releases Also, check out the band’s Facebook page at The Adjustments, where you’ll find video of the band. Matt’s on keyboards and vocals. Come on out on Saturdayfor a little bit o’ merry, and help out One Roof at the same time.
This is a heads up that the One Roof community will be celebrating Thanksgiving! Please join us on Monday, October 10th, (that is this upcoming Monday) for a complete Thanksgiving Feast (ham, not turkey).
All of us at One Roof – volunteers, diners, staff, and everyone in-between, have a lot to be grateful for: our generous donors, the love and support of our fair city and our hosts: All Saints Anglican Church. However, we are most thankful for each other and the community we have created. We do hope that you will join us on Monday (same time and place) to celebrate the wealth of love and resources we have been given and have created together.
In movies characters are more often than not divided into two separate and distinctive categories, the heroes (the good looking, the kind hearted, the “Let’s save the day” kinda dudes and gals) and the villains (the misguided, the dark, the “Let’s take over the planet” kinda figures). But life is no movie and it is much harder to fit people into either one or the other category. In reality, most people are more morally grey than a black or white hero or villain.
Looking at myself, some people may call me a hero. Hell I even have one or two life saves under my belt. I do genuinely try to inspire people, am vocal about equal rights and I do spend a decent amount of time with the homeless plus a lot of time with my two nieces (who doesn’t love an adorable family man?). On paper that is typical movie heroism. On the other end of the spectrum, I am not nearly close to being perfect. I am incredibly flawed and make mistakes. As my closest friends can attest to, I can be downright unlikeable at times. I haven’t committed any crimes as serious as trying to take over the world with my giant death ray but I haven’t always made the best choices. In our hypothetical black and white world, this makes me a villain.
One of the hardest things I struggle with is learning which crimes have been committed by the guests. In the shelter life, it is more uncommon for us to encounter someone who has NOT had some sort of run ins with the wrong side of the law rather than those who never have. In our movie reality this makes them villains. The sad reality to this situation is that movies, tv and the media have convinced us that anyone who has committed a crime is the bad guy. We don’t think twice about why the crime was committed, just that they are bad people who did a bad thing. We rarely look into what roads led to committing the crime. Was it out of necessity? Was it a product of their environment or their upbringing? We don’t make exceptions and sometimes we don’t even allow redemption. We don’t see a person anymore, we see the crime.
There are some awful crimes in this world and please don’t take this as me trying to justify any of these crimes being committed. It takes a lot of work for me to look past the crimes to see the light in a person. I can think of at least one moment with each guest where they showed me their light. Whether it be offering other guests some snacks they managed to bring in with them or an extra smoke (which is a huge deal sharing because smokes are like gold in the shelter) or jumping into a fight to protect myself or any volunteers, I have seen the heroic side of so many of these guests that would be otherwise classified as a villain in the movie version of reality.
The point that I am getting at is that we cannot be defining people as either simply a hero or a villain. This world is not that simple. We live in a morally grey world. In this world, the “good” guys will make mistakes and the “bad” guys will commit acts of kindness and in some cases, seek redemption. Motivations for crimes aren’t always world domination and even heroic actions aren’t always driven by the goodness of one’s heart. Call me naive or stupid but in this field, I have to be able to believe that people can change or find their redemption if they seek it. I have to find their light or I would go crazy. When we see people as only their crimes, we are blocking their chance at redemption. We are not allowing them to move pass it or find a way to forgive themselves. Now please do not get me wrong, I am not asking for everyone to forgive or trust a dangerous offender or someone who has done horrible things to you. I just want us all to pull back and look at things from a different (and uncomfortable) perspective.
I want you to think of the good things you have done in your life. People you have helped, loved and made their lives better. Or even things like helping a little old lady across the street or volunteering at your local Warming Room (see what I did there?). Those are the moments where you know that you did some good. Now I want you to think of the worst thing you have ever done. Have you grown since then? Were you forgiven? Have you forgiven yourself?
Now imagine that the bad thing you did is the only thing people ever see about you. No matter how hard you try, no one will let you move on from that moment or let you forget it. Think about how much that would hurt and no matter how much you grow or try to change, no one accepts it. No one will ever see you as anything more than that awful thing. You are the villain in the world’s eyes. How does that feel?
See? Things are not so simply black and white or heroes and villains. I hope that we can start allowing people who are seeking redemption to find it. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know that people allowing me to redeem myself has made all the difference in shaping the person I have become. I do not know where I would be if friends and family didn’t forgive me for my mistakes.
We all have different paths to take and things are rarely as “hero or villain” as they are in the movies. I hope those of you seeking redemption are granted the chance to do so. And always remember, be kind to each other.
Well, this is it. I’m done. Today is the last day I will be working the Warming Room for the season. I am so thankful for those who allowed me the privilege to serve, for Niki and Christine who encouraged me to step up and do it..But most of all I’m thankful to the homeless who accepted me into their community.
Truly I learned more about Christianity in the past months than I have in years of bible study and “traditional” ways. “Doing church” has changed for me to spending some time out in the community interacting. This past season I tried to offer love and acceptance in a different way and out of my comfort zone. I shared Christ in a bar with a crack addict, I had the most frank talks about Jesus than I have in months. I swallowed hard and did coffee at Tim’s with a transsexual. I’ve done meals out with people that I just used to look away from. I shared more testimony than I have in years, and yes, I was honest about lots of stuff that I don’t share easily. A few times I put myself in harm’s way to ensure the safely of others. I’ve been sworn at, cursed to hell, threatened and was mighty scared. The other day though it struck me,. That’s how it should be, most of the cool stuff Jesus did wasn’t in the synagogue but out and about.
I’ve been living is this nice warm safe comfortable “Christian” place the past years. If we are not out there in the real world how will they ever know about the hope that lies in us? We are the only Jesus most will ever see. Trust me, most non-Christians will never set foot in a church. If we are not out there how will they ever know they how much He loves them?
I’m always amazed how when I remove focus from myself to others God can use me. Even me with all the junk I still am working on. I realize that I will never be fully qualified or holy enough to be worthy to do some of this stuff, thankfully He gives us all we need to serve. How much have I changed the homeless world? Very little I’m afraid, but God has been changing me.