Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
We don’t often think of Jesus as being homeless, but during his ministry he was often doing the equivalent of first century couch surfing. Walking around Palestine under the hot Mediterranean sun, interacting with lepers and leaders, there were probably many times when Jesus was dehydrated, hungry, exhausted and without the prospect of the creature comforts of home. While it had its challenges, his vagrant state also allowed him to be where the people needed him. He could move when they moved, stay in their homes and enjoy (or patiently endure) their company.
Parkdale, in Toronto, also has more than its share of people with no fixed address. A once wealthy area, Parkdale has long been associated with urban decline, homelessness and mental illness.
Responding to these issues is The Dale, a ministry of Parkdale Neighbourhood Church. Led by Erinn Oxford, The Dale is a unique ministry in many ways. Like the community it serves, The Dale is homeless after a series of funding challenges left them without a building.
“We’ve been through a severe crisis. We became a church without walls and have spilled into the street. We always live close to the edge, but we’re stable in a different way. It has its challenges, but not having a building has its perks. People can find us anywhere and we’re able to do a lot with very little,” says Erinn.
Due to budget cuts and a constant struggle to maintain funding in this high need area, The Dale staff has had to improvise and build partnerships with other ministries to continue to serve and survive. Now a church, a drop-in, a discussion group, and a source of healthy community for many people in the area, The Dale meets in different times and places, but the people who need them know exactly where to find them.
“I see Jesus as active and present in this community. There’s a real rawness to people’s faith. There’s a willingness to voice those things that are challenges and questions, which encourages me to do the same… We have people here who prior to finding this place had no connection to people whatsoever. They didn’t talk to people until they found community here. As they felt safe to talk to people, what came out was their longing for healing and hope and relationship. In little bits, people are discovering that Jesus can be the answer. It’s quite powerful when somebody trusts that they can come as they are to a church service and cry out to God and say, ‘God I’ve lost everybody I’ve ever loved. I’ve buried most of them. I’ve used alcohol to cope for 25+ years and I never felt safe to come to a church to say that.’ At The Dale they can.”
With a sturdy base of committed volunteers from outside and within The Dale’s core community, they are creating a sense of home even without a building. It is a place where those who are often invisible and peripheral get to be the seen at the centre of it all.
The most passionate advocates for The Dale are the community members themselves. Devon is one such member: “Know that the gifts you give to this community are a blessing to many. The Gospel creates a sense of purpose for those who are waiting it out until cheque week. It creates hope for the lost who have been abandoned on the streets. It gives a place of refuge to the forgotten who have been rejected and tossed aside, including me. With work, and your support together we can create a greater community not just in Parkdale but throughout the whole city… Come and see the work [God] is doing!”
If you would like to find out more about The Dale, go to www.pnctoronto.ca.