As many of you will know, much of Ontario just experienced a deeply cold snap. Temperatures in Toronto dropped last Thursday night to around minus 30, and stayed very cold until Saturday night. While this kind of weather is uncomfortable for everyone, it can be deadly for others.

On that Thursday morning, a relatively new friend, “Stephen” popped by The Dale for a breakfast-to-go. We got chatting, and I asked him if he had enough supplies, knowing that he was sleeping rough and had recently experienced an encampment fire. (These sometimes happen by accident when folks try to keep warm, or by arson.)

It turned out that Stephen is now staying in a new location, and didn’t know about the replacement tents and sleeping bags that The Dale and Parkdale Queen West Community Health Center had been able to provide. Meg popped downstairs and grabbed a tent, sleeping bag, blanket and hand warmers.

While she was collecting these things, I got to keep chatting with our friend. I already knew that suggesting a shelter or warming center would not be helpful (he finds congregate settings too stressful, and even if he was willing there would almost certainly not be a space available.) Instead, I urged him to be as careful as he could.

This all gave me a very unsettling sense of deja vu; about a month ago someone new to The Dale came by for breakfast and supplies. He told me his name was John.

John took the hat we gave him and turned it inside out, obviously taking delight in the unique look he had decided to rock. He helped to clear things up after breakfast, and it felt very possible that we would see him again and potentially build a friendship. Two days later John died in another encampment fire.

I SO appreciate the hard work being done by existing service providers (like my many friends who work in the shelter system.) These folks are doing essential and often under-funded and under-appreciated work.

AND, I long for the day when there adequate resources for people who are unjustly excluded from safe and dignified housing. I long for the day when there is no need to advocate for more warming centers and shelter spaces to open, because there is enough supportive, deeply affordable housing for anyone who needs it, WHEN they need it. I long for the day when lives (and budding friendships) don’t get cut short by encampment fires.

In the meantime, we must keep advocating (writing letters to the mayor, attending vigils, etc.) and learning from our friends who are outside. We must keep sharing moments of joy, and experiences of sorrow. We must keep trying to open our hearts to one another, knowing that we need each other.


By joannacatherinemoon

I am the Lead Community Worker at The Dale Ministries in Parkdale, Toronto, ON. The Dale seeks to create safe welcoming spaces in which all people, particularly those on the margins, are encouraged to participate fully, to the best of their abilities and journey together toward a deeper experience of the life God has given us. This blog is meant to help keep my supporters connected with life at The Dale.

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