STORIESLives changed by All Saints!
Lack of affordable housing and adequate shelter has forced those who have lost their homes to live now on the streets or in unsafe housing. Without a fixed address to give to potential employers, vulnerable to theft and violence with no locked door to protect them, exposed to the weather and to infection in overcrowded accommodation, their physical and mental health rapidly worsens. The poorly housed often get condescended to and rejected as being a part of wider society. Thus, a lack of self-esteem magnifies itself among this group of long-term residents of the inner city and triggers a vicious cycle of deepening degradation.
All Saints’ is the only Church organization in the downtown that dedicates its entire facility to providing a safe and nurturing environment to enhance the well-being of homeless and street-involved individuals. Staff work alongside the community they serve to help to address social inclusion, and to foster equality, and mutual respect. Our uniqueness is recognized and respected by people who find themselves marginalized in other aspects of our society and by other agents working with disenfranchised people in the area.
When Lucy walked into the Friday Women’s Drop-In for the ﬁrst time, I was struck by her very cool, high-heeled shoes. The Friday Women’s Drop-In at All Saints’ serves female sex workers and drug addicts and now, increasingly, a number of transgender women who live and work in the area. As we sat down to eat breakfast together I learned something about Lucy’s life journey.
She grew up as a boy then worked for a while in Hamilton, Ontario. When she graduated from High School she began working in the steel industry as a millwright and pipe ﬁtter.
But ever since childhood, Lucy had started to feel that her true self was female. As a teenager, she had secretly started to dress in women’s clothes until her brother found them in her closet and threw them in the garbage. Her parents eventually closed the front door on her, and she became yet another statistic in the GTA’s homeless population.
Lucy came to Toronto to ﬁnd support within the growing trans community and began to work in bars and occasionally in the sex trade. But this summer, Lucy conﬁded to me with great pride, she has landed a job as a grounds person in a summer camp in northern Ontario.
“And when I drive that tractor” she told me with a wicked glint in her eye, “I’m going to be wearing my high heels!”
He was coming to All Saints’ a few years ago to get a cup of coffee for a quarter when he was between jobs and had little money to spend. Now he has a retirement income and lives elsewhere but he still comes back to All Saints’ to mop the floors when the drop-in closes. No one can clean the floors as well as he does, but there are dozens others like him who as neighbours and former neighbours, though they have faced tough times, still find ways to contribute here at All Saints’ to the wellbeing of others around them.
In the spring of 2015, some members of the All Saints’, Sherbourne St., community created a vegetable garden in the church parking lot. Nestled in a sunny south-facing spot, and sheltered on each side by the buttresses of the church, the vegetable garden at All Saints’ has ﬂourished, and provided food for all the Drop-Ins as well as takeouts for the Sunday community.
A volunteer and theology group regular and other men from the Sunday church congregation planned and built containers. Then the bags of earth were delivered, the seeds sown, and the garden came to life, thanks to the blessings of warm sun and frequent rain showers. Since we ﬁrst celebrated the ﬁrst dedication and blessing of the garden in May 2015, it has proved to be a resounding success. Some people feared it might be vandalized or looted, but instead, passersby often drop by to admire it. Many people in the neighbourhood have kept an eye on it at weekends. It has become a great source of pride.
All Saints’ is one of the best churches that I go to. A lot of people I know from the streets come here and there are new people too. Because I know their stories, they are good company. I’m basically a cheerful, happy person. It’s a place like home. If you need something, all you have to do is ask and they will give it to you if they have it. If they can’t that’s okay, too. I’m never worried because I always have enough.
Eleanor (a regular at the Thursday Women’s Drop-In)
I’ve lived in this community for over 45 years and I see a lot of people who struggle with mental illness. I worked at 416 (416 Community Support for Women) for years. The girls on the streets call me ‘Mom.’ My own daughter is on the street…she’s quite sick but she is being treated for her medical condition and I pray that she will get well. But now, with my disabilities, I’m in therapy and it’s hard to get out. If it wasn’t for the Women’s Drop-in, I’d be home all alone.
It was the luckiest day of my life when I moved into All Saints’. Nobody is as lucky as I am because I am safe, secure, and loved. I used to have a $400 a day crack habit that I supported by doing sex work. I had been living on the streets and hadn’t seen a doctor in over seven years.
Within a month of coming here, I had housing, disability support, and had quit sex work and drug dealing. I had the chance to become involved in a 15-week program that taught me how to become a peer worker. Since then I have been hired to be a part-time peer worker, doing outreach to women who are still on the streets.
I go out every Friday morning carrying a backpack filled with clean drug kits, condoms, warm socks, snacks, whatever the women need, and invite them to come to the drop-in for breakfast, to see the nurse, get their hair cut, and just to be with other women who don’t judge them.
They helped me set up my Facebook page and by the next day 33 of my long-lost aunts, uncles, and cousins had accepted my “friend” request. When the drop-in is closed in the summer, I go to visit them. After all I have been through, and all that the people here have given me, I want to give back and maybe help someone else stuck in a bad spot. Now that I don’t have to worry about things like housing and food, maybe I can help someone else move out of the pit.
All Saints’ doors are always open for us, whether you are hungry, angry or sad.
Staff are always on heels and ready to help in whatever way necessary. I believe that All Saints’ runs off mutual respect for participants to participants and staff to participants especially given the fact that we are in a church. Staff gives or finds reasons to tell or show clients/ participants that they should not give up no matter the circumstances and also inspire us to keep a positive outlook on our individual situations.
It’s also a resting place for people like myself in and around the community or even strangers to the city, whether homeless or housed. I’ve been coming to All Saints’ for years — it’s almost like a second home to me. I love the work and the care offered here.*
*Staff note — Lee is one of our participants that loves to volunteer to help clean up whether inside or outside, whether rain snow or sunshine he’s always willing to clean without being asked.
I realized after moving away that I had a spring in my step. Shantal asked me what was going on and I told her I finally moved and she said that explains the walk. “So it wasn’t just me who noticed,” I said to her and I smiled.
When packing I started to come across things that I’ve not seen in 10 years including court papers of the man who’s name I’d forgotten three years before. There was his name and all the memories came flashing back I left the apartment and went to All Saints’ and cried. Barb, Shantal and Marjorie created a safe place mentally for me. After talking with them I went back to my soon to be old apartment, packed a few things I need and went home to my new place, thanks to All Saints’ I found my piece of mind again.*
*Staff note — Brian is a participant that at been around for many years and staff has watched him grow emotionally and mentally, he had an amazingly contagious spirit, he gets along well with other participants. These days he’s not living in the neighbourhood anymore but he still comes around especially to play cards with barb. Staff is very proud of him and his progress through the years.
315 Dundas Street East (The southeast corner of Sherbourne & Dundas) Toronto, ON M5A 2A2
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