Saving the Life

When is a church basement not a church basement?

When it has been converted into a daily homeless shelter for more than 40 people many nights of the week.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. A church basement is always just a church basement … which is why trying to convert it into the aforementioned shelter has been a struggle for Murray Street Baptist Church in Peterborough.

It’s a struggle that we’ve been living through at MSBC for the last five years, with varying degrees of success.

Like many communities, Peterborough suffers from a homelessness problem, however, the number of homeless people in a city our size (approx. 86,000), is far greater than the statistical norm. There are many reasons for that, but housing officials often point out that one of the main factors is the sad reality that the opioid crisis that is ravaging so many communities is particularly virulent here in Peterborough.

The sad connection between drug use and homelessness is something that MSBC has seen played out in our church during these past five years, and our church family has only seen the problem escalate.

In response to the crisis, we originally partnered with another church to host The Warming Room, a program which was designed to run from November through April, offering, as the name would suggest, a warm room during the coldest months of the year – and it gets quite snowy and cold here in Peterborough. Eventually, the scope of the program expanded, and the shelter ran year-round. The original vision was to offer shelter, safety and comfort to those who were unable to secure shelter at the other emergency housing initiatives offered by the city. There are a number of reasons why homeless men and women may have needed the space—the other shelters may be full; they may be banned from the other shelters; they may be uncomfortable with the regulations and expectations of the shelters.

However, over the course of our affiliation with The Warming Room, what began as a low-barrier approach become lower and lower, until it was more accurate to say that it was a no-barrier shelter. Certain activities and behaviours that would be deemed unacceptable anywhere became commonplace in our church basement and church property. So, MSBC made the difficult decision to end our affiliation with The Warming Room this past summer—but I’m so pleased to share that our commitment to serving the homeless community in our city has not ended. In fact, it’s entering an exciting new phase!

We are partnering with the City of Peterborough on a comprehensive housing initiative and the new emergency overflow shelter will be operated by the staff of a long-running, well-respected homeless shelter, The Brock Mission.

The downtown community around MSBC has changed radically over the last few decades. The Lord has not chosen to remove us from our long-time home in the city’s core. So, we will continue to minister, to help, and to love our neighbours as the Lord leads … because while a church basement will always just be a church basement, it can be a basement filled with warmth, kindness and love.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”

Deuteronomy 15:11

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