It’s been nearly two weeks now since Sanctuary’s beloved James Smith died. I haven’t written about him sooner, because I just haven’t had the emotional energy, or the desire to acknowledge that he’s truly gone.

As many others have acknowledged, James was ready to go home, and if he had died after a lengthy stay in hospital (as some of our friends have), his parting would have felt different. But he was attacked, seemingly randomly, just a block away from Sanctuary and just a couple of hours after I (and many others) gave him a hug and said goodnight. He died violently and alone, and this feels so wrong. I wish we, his community, could have been there to surround him with our love.

Over the last number of years I have spent less and less time at Sanctuary, as my time and energy has increasingly been devoted to The Dale. While this has been a natural and necessary evolution, I am sad that I wasn’t able to spent more time with James over recent years. However, I count James as one of my most important teachers and dearest Sanctuary friends, and I miss him.

James taught me about the importance of simply spending time, even/especially when the original goal of that time is not met. During the summer of 2011 I was an intern at Sanctuary. One evening Rachel (a Sanctuary staffer) and I were on outreach, and we ended up taking James to the emergency room upon his request (for semi-urgent attention). We waited with him for…a long time. Maybe 5 or 6 hours. At various points we needed to convince him to stay, but we also shared some laughs. He never ended up seeing anyone, and eventually took off. But spending those hours together in emerg cemented our friendship. James taught me that in these contexts “wasting time” isn’t actually a waste of time.

James also taught me about genuine appreciation of piano concertos. I knew that he loved classical music, and so when a friend of mine gave me two last-minute tickets to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a few years ago, I took James. Seeing him soak in the music, and tell me his favourite parts afterwards, was such a gift. Now piano concertos are my favourite bits of classical music too.

James taught me/us about love and lament. He loved his partner Stacy with a deep love, despite all sorts of challenges in their relationship. When she died, he actively and loudly lamented during Sanctuary services. He also loved his street brothers and sisters deeply, and they knew it. When Iggy died, in particular, he again grieved and lamented loudly. James taught me that to love deeply is to feel loss deeply.

James, thank you for accepting me as a friend and sister. I love you, and miss you.



Things in my bike bag


The other day I opened up the bag that clips onto my bike, and had to smile at the wild assortment of things I had collected over the course of the day:

– two trays of wet dog food, acquired with a coupon that a Dale friend asked me to redeem on her behalf.

– two or three pieces of “Bob Art”, elaborate paper cuttings like paper snowflakes except in the shape of tulips.

– a gift card for a local Parkdale business, donated for our upcoming Online Auction (stay tuned!!)

– a piece of costume jewellery from a Dale friend, to be delivered to Erinn.

– the usual stuff like my wallet, keys, cell phone and day planner.

I feel like this assortment accurately depicts an average day in my life at The Dale – running strange errands, garnering support for our little community, receiving and cherishing the various gifts that our folks have to offer.

#justanotherdayatthedale, and I’m loving it.





I love birthdays. I always have, probably because I come from a long line of birthday-lovers.

This week happens to contain not one, two, three, four, five or six, but SEVEN Dale birthdays! One on Saturday, three on Tuesday, two yesterday, and one today. This means multiple cakes, birthday cards, birthday songs, and lots of expressions of love.

While I’m a firm believer that any day is a great day to tell someone that you are glad that they exist, there really is something special about doing so on the anniversary of that someone’s arrival. This is especially important when that person hasn’t always been assured of their great worth, or has been told that most harmful of lies- that they are not worth of love.

There are folks at The Dale who have been told all kinds of lies about their worth over the years. My hope and prayer is that, as we go through life together, celebrating each other along the way, all of our friends will know that they are beyond precious to us and to the One who created them.



I’ve known “Laura” for a number of years now. She and her partner used to be spotted all over the city, double-riding on an e-bike. They would zoom around to various drop-ins, always ending up back in their home base of Parkdale.  While they had their ups and downs, they were relatively independent and mobile.

These days Laura is not doing as well. The last few times I’ve seen her she has been in a pretty desperate space, keenly panhandling or simply wandering Queen Street. Seeing her like this breaks my heart, and leaves me feeling a bit helpless.

This past Sunday, Erinn preached about the tears of Jesus in Luke 19, and the other instances in the gospels when Jesus weeps. Laura had wandered into our service during the passing of the peace, and decided to stay. While Erinn spoke about the tears of Jesus, Laura began to weep audibly. She allowed me to sit with her and put my arm around her shoulders (an unexpected privilege, based on my experience with Laura). While she often expresses distress and sadness in public, these tears felt unique; like Laura was weeping alongside Jesus, or that Jesus was weeping alongside Laura.

Laura stepped outside for a cigarette during our time of Communion/The Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, but happily received the bread and cup on the front steps of the church. I told her that she was loved, and she said “Does God actually love me??” I did my best to assure her that God does, and sat on the steps with her for a bit.

After the service, Laura stuck around, and was warmly welcomed by a group of German students who have been spending time at The Dale recently. At one point I looked over and saw their heads bowed in prayer for Laura. Afterwards, she told me that these young people had made her feel extraordinarily accepted, just as she was.

Laura is a psychiatric survivor, and until Sunday that was almost all I knew about her. But after receiving the Lord’s Supper, and the love and prayers of some new friends, Laura opened up and told stories about her early years. We learned that she was an actress during high school, a swimming instructor at summer camp, and that she has an amazing laugh! She told me that the next time I go into a cafe and someone asks me how I like my coffee, I should tell them that “I like my Coffee Crisp!” 🙂 In all my interactions with Laura, this was the very first time that she laughed, let alone told me a joke.

While I’m sure that Laura has many ups and downs ahead of her (as we all do), it was a very precious thing to be able to witness the flowering that can take place when someone experiences acceptance.

This need to be accepted is as universal a need as water, and just as refreshing.

Going with the flow


Last week we were sitting around a table at the back of the Thrift Store, as we do on Tuesday afternoons. We were well into a game of Scrabble, a plate of crackers and cheese, and a bowl of grapes. A friend was playing the guitar, relatively quietly (for us), and there were various conversations going on around the table.

A new face arrived partway through this drop-in time, and was welcomed by a community member who engaged the new person in conversation. I was aware of this new presence, and was thrilled to see how quickly they became engaged in a deep conversation.

About half an hour later, the recent arrival was somehow triggered by something the person playing the guitar had unwittingly said/done. They quietly but firmly flipped the bird to the guitar player, and asked them to take note. Understandably, the musician was rattled, having never met this person before. I encouraged my friend not to take it personally, but was inwardly fearing that the situation may explode at any moment.

But…it didn’t! The musician chose to play another song, dedicated “to the middle finger”, and the community member who had originally welcomed the newcomer suggested the song could be called “The Flying Bird”. They proceeded to make up lyrics about a bird flying right over the offense that caused, and was caused by, the “flipping of the bird”.

One thing that I love about Parkdale is the general recognition that we all have our moments, our struggles, our quirks, our trigger points. Don’t get me wrong; there are days when it seems like nearly everyone is on edge and looking for a reason to become offended. But on many other days (or those same days), people do an amazing job of diffusing situations with incredible humour and grace. Last week at the Thrift Store was a beautiful example to me of this understanding, go-with-the-flow side of Parkdale. This is the neighbourhood that I know and love.

Holy Ground


This past Monday The Dale had the pleasure of hosting a group of high school students from the Belleville area. They are part of a performing arts group, and have been spending part of their March break putting on a musical about the life of Job, and spending the other part in contexts like The Dale.

When a new bunch of faces show up on a Monday, Erinn, Meagan and/or I explain the history of Parkdale and The Dale, and describe what a typical week looks like for us. We also explain the philosophy of The Dale;  that everyone has gifts to give, and things with which we need help. Humans are just humans, and we all need to eat lunch.  We invite the youth into drop-in, not to serve but to be served.

Our dear friend Steve Grant will often show up on these Mondays and graciously share his story, which includes periods of time spent living outside. We are very grateful for Steve’s ongoing generosity with his time and vulnerability.

After all these introductions and stories, we set the group loose in the drop-in space to sit down and chat. One of my favourite things about having groups of young people at The Dale is being reminded, again and again, how good the folks in our community are at offering hospitality. I’m always a little bit nervous that the sheer volume of new faces (this week there were close to 20) will overwhelm the capacity of the community… But every time, the community rises to the occasion.

Our folks chat up these new, young friends, generously sharing their stories while they pass the platter of food around the table. It’s just the best to pause, look around, listen to the hubbub, and watch the community do their thing.

We also try our best to carve out time to debrief with groups at the end of drop-in, to check in and see how they experienced the day. This week the group shared about various conversations they had, and how grateful they were for the way that people welcomed them. At the end of our debrief time, they offered to sing a song called Holy Ground, in multi-part harmony (see the video below… please excuse my shaky hands!)

This song is a lovely expression of how I feel about days like Monday – when it’s clear that God is present in the building of new, unlikely friendships, and the ground, hands and lips of all involved are therefore made holy.


Choosing Joy


One of my favourite songs, which we sing at both Sanctuary and The Dale, is called “Choosing Joy.” It starts like this:

This journey down here

has pain and fear

Lord you understand

see the wounds in your hand


Choosing joy, to you I run

Choosing joy for what’s to come

Choosing joy, this I do

Just because I love you.

Part of the reason that I love this song so much is that I have witnessed those lyrics in action. I’ve seen my friend Johnny produce any number of hilarious, witty cardboard signs, to make people laugh while he requests spare change. I’ve heard Marlene pray with deep and sincere joy and gratitude for the many “little blessings” that she receives from God, like the time that a dog came and sat beside her in the park. I’ve heard Peter give thanks for the indescribable joy he experiences knowing that he is a child of God.

These examples do not represent acts of denial — there’s no question in anyone’s mind that each of these friends have more than their share of struggle. To choose joy like this is not trite or flippant; it is a grateful acknowledgement that we are not alone in our struggle, and that the One who knows our pain will one day make all things right. While I can’t speak for these friends, it seems to me that when they choose joy, it is a radical act of faith.

Joy is also a choice that we can make as a community. Every February, The Dale has a big Feast and Open Mic. We have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and lots of dessert, and then open up the floor to anyone who would like to share a song, a poem, or a dance. This tradition started many years ago, as a conscious decision to have FUN in the midst of a tough month. This past Saturday was this year’s February Feast, and it was absolutely FULL of joy. Words can hardly describe it, but here’s what Erinn wrote about it 🙂

I invite you, along with us at The Dale, to choose joy in the midst of whatever you’re facing these days.

Affordable Housing Now


Yesterday morning I sat in on a meeting at City Hall, with Mayor John Tory and his Executive Committee. The topic was affordable housing, specifically the “Housing Now” initiative that the city staff has developed. The room was packed with people who are concerned that this initiative will not provide enough housing for those who are most desperately in need of it.

The report defines “affordable” as 80% of market rent, which is not affordable at all for most people and particularly those on the margins. Some of the units would be 40% of market rent, but only one tenth of them. There was also no mention of supportive housing, or units specifically for people exiting homelessness.

I was 24th of 27 people making deputations (3 minute speeches, stating our concerns). I’ve included my deputation below, but basically I was advocating for the many people in Parkdale who are being forced out of their relatively affordable dwellings and have literally nowhere to go in a city with ever-soaring rental costs.

Since I was near the bottom of the list, I sat for two and a half hours, hearing person after person describe their concern for the most marginalized people in our city. It was simultaneously encouraging and saddening; encouraging to be reminded that there are so many people in Toronto who care so deeply, and saddening that the response by all levels of government has been so inadequate over the last couple of decades that homelessness is now a true crisis.

When I left City Hall, I went to Parkdale and joined Erinn and Meagan for an hour of helping a friend de-clutter her home before a housing inspection. She acknowledged freely that if she is evicted, she has nowhere to go.

After that, Meg and I were walking through the neighbourhood and ran into both halves of a couple, one after the other. They were both in a pretty bad way, having lost their housing (we think), and feeling pretty desperate and helpless. We encouraged them to go to one of the temporary shelters that are relatively nearby, but don’t know if they will go.

A couple of blocks later, we ran into a friend who was busy working on a project. We stopped to check it out, and he told us that he was building a house for “Sam” a mutual friend who has slept outside for quite a while now. This house consisted of a cage on wheels, covered in a tarp and lined with sleeping pads. Our friends are so creative, resourceful and kind… And this should not be the last resort. It just shouldn’t, in a city like Toronto. But this is the reality that faces our friends.

I pray and plead that the eyes, hearts, minds and wallets of all levels of government will open, and that this housing crisis will be addressed as the emergency that it is.


As promised, my deputation:

Good morning, Mayor Tory and Councillors Ainslie, Bailao, Crawford, Minnan-Wong, Pasternak, Nunziata and Thompson,

My name is Joanna Moon, and I am speaking today on behalf of The Dale Ministries, a community organization and church in Parkdale that places at its core those who are often pushed to the margins. The Dale operates without its own walls; we run all of our drop-ins, outreach, services and special events in partnership with other community organizations.

As Parkdale gentrifies, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of people of low income being evicted, and their units being rented out for double the price. Many of the members of the Dale are facing the stress of being pushed out of places that they have called home for many years, compounded with the bleak reality that there is nowhere affordable to go. Our colleagues at Parkdale Community Legal Services have done, and are doing, great work in fighting back against these evictions, but now the legal clinic itself being evicted.

Many of our people in Parkdale have been on the waitlist for subsidized social housing for a decade or more. Now, not only is subsidized housing a far-off dream, but the stock of rooming houses and relatively affordable apartments is decreasing at an alarming rate. When our friends are forced out of their homes, the only other option is the shelter system that, as you know, is overwhelmed.

The only emergency shelter in Parkdale is a women’s respite center on Cowan Avenue, which is over-crowded, inaccessible to those with mobility issues, with cots on the floor and no showers. The next closest option is one of the windowless Sprung structures, in Liberty Village, which feels far more like a warehouse for humans than a home. We’ve been told by multiple people that the other respite center in the Queen Elizabeth building in the Exhibition Grounds is a pretty dismal place to be, and that food rations are totally insufficient. While these temporary shelters have been necessary this winter and last, they are not a long term solution. They are far from dignified, and give our friends the impression that they are a problem to be dealt with, rather than the inherently precious people that they are.

We are glad that affordable housing has become a priority for this committee, and we are deeply concerned that the plans outlined in the Housing Now initiative will not benefit those in most desperate need of affordable housing. We urge you to require that the housing developed on the 11 designated properties be truly affordable, with at least 50% being rent-geared-to-income units. These 11 sites must include supportive housing, and housing for people coming out of homelessness.  Also, least 10% of the units must be dedicated to indigenous housing providers.

Additional surplus city-owned sites in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (such as South Parkdale must be added to the list of 11 properties. And finally, meaningful Inclusionary Zoning MUST be put into place, to ensure that development does not lead to the displacement of people who already live in neighbourhoods like Parkdale.

Toronto needs to be a place where everyone has a place to truly call home, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Thank you for your time.

Make New Friends and Keep the Old


Longevity in relationship is important.

I have the joy and privilege of being in touch with friends that I made in elementary school, high school and university. I am still connected to people in the church that I was born into (Bethel Bible Church in Kingston), and the church in which I grew up (Ferndale Bible Church in Peterborough). I have family friends that I held when they were as young as three hours old, and are now adults. I am also deeply privileged to have a network of family members who have known me my whole life, or I’ve known them their whole lives. I do not take this for granted.

While many of these relationships look very different from the times when we were in close geographical proximity, shared history matters. Stories from “back in the day” are told and retold, and those memories matter.

Memory-making and long-term relationship building are big parts of what we do at The Dale. To be a community, to be a family, is to have shared stories. It’s important for us to be able to say “remember that time, when we had a picnic by the lake on a perfect summer day? When someone spilled olive oil all over the floor at drop in? When we went caroling and Mark yelled “Ho, Ho, Ho” during every single pause between, and within, songs? When people from all over the city came for Will’s funeral?” Having a shared history means that we have a narrative into which we can welcome new community members/characters in the story.

As this New Year begins, I look forward to maintaining existing friendships, and nurturing new ones. As the song goes, “make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

Such beauty, and such riches.



I give out my number pretty freely at The Dale. I never guarantee that I will answer my phone, and almost always keep it on silent overnight, but I know that sometimes people just need to speak things aloud and that leaving a voicemail will do the job.

I’ve come to expect a certain type of message from certain people. If “Paul” calls, it’s almost always to let me know how he’s doing, and to tell me that he’s praying for me and the rest of us at The Dale. He will encourage me in my role, and remind me to trust in God.

If “Maureen” calls, it’s usually to confirm that we’re meeting at a certain place at a certain time; since The Dale is a nomadic church she likes to check to make sure she has the right spot.

If “Trevor” calls, he’s usually had a bit to drink and will leave a few messages in a row. These voicemails are usually a combination of his own renditions of popular songs, philosophical/theological ramblings, as well as a bizarre mixture of over-the-top compliments and patronizing insults. I don’t take either of these things personally, as I know that they come from his own history of pain.

So, when I saw that I had a voicemail from Trevor yesterday, I was expecting more of the same. I should know by now that assumptions are very often incorrect; this message from Trevor was clear and compassionate. He thought that he saw me walking down Queen Street with a friend the other day, and was sure that I was crying. He wanted to check in and see if someone I loved had died, and if so, who? And if so, he was there to listen with an empathetic ear. He has lost many friends, he told me, and so knows the pain that he thought I must be feeling.

While I have been known to walk down the street crying, the person he saw the other day wasn’t me. But I was humbled and grateful that this friend took the time to check in with me and offer a listening ear. No compliments, no insults. Just empathy.

As per usual, God chose to show up in a moment I least expected, knocking down my assumptions and opening up my heart anew.