O Lord, please, please, please give me the strength to be wise and kind and charitable.
Let me be understanding of the fears in the room, allow me to make allowances for words mis-spoken and unkindnesses unintended.
We were considering the need for a women’s shelter in Duncan. To be fair, few of the people present denied the need. Most, however, were adamant in denying the location.
“A blight upon the neighbourhood” said one long time stalwart pillar of the community. Scion of a local political family. “Good work happening inside, but we don’t need any of what it brings on the outside.”
“Consider the children,” said the Executive Director of the Daycare sharing a parking lot with the closed school the shelter would occupy. “How can we put them at risk? Needles, congestion, potential damage to staff vehicles…what would they see? How could we guard against it? Why did no one come to talk to us about a plan?”
“I’m all in favour of helping the homeless,” said a local counsellor, “my wife and I made sure some of them had food and toiletries when they were burned out of their apartment. But really, this is not the place for them. They should be at the other shelter. I talked to the executive director there and he said he’s not aware of any women who feel unsafe coming there.”
“Homeless people have a voice,” said one dad “my kids don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a first nations man, I understand abuse and residential schools and all of that. But those people don’t belong in my neighbourhood. Our kids need to be protected from them. Kids don’t know right from wrong. We do.”
“I have total sympathy for those people,” said one woman, “I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for years. Worked hard to have my house. I want more work done on another location before we start giving away space in the neighbourhood to people who won’t work as hard as I did.”
Lord give me strength to say the right thing. Help me to find the words that inspire, that urge to transcendence that bring relationship and love into the room.
“It’s about the kids. We have 5 daycares, an online school, a mental health group home, a vulnerable seniors facility, we don’t need this. Our kids don’t need this.”
I should have reached out, and I tried. But part way in I lost my way and began asking what kind of world they’d decided their kids should see. The world where homeless abused women, afraid to go to a shelter where the men were not noted for stability could be condemned to rain-soaked huddles by the side of the road? A world where their children understood that they too would be, could be, undervalued, scorned, dirt on the edge of the pavement? A world without shelter, where even a tent is a deniable ‘luxury’. Where homeless folk, driven from parks and pavement are forced to seek shelter in carports, crawlspaces, sheds, dumpsters and unlocked vehicles?
I tried hard to make the case for love on Monday in Duncan council chambers.
The vote went against the shelter. The neighbours cheered.
Still angry a day later, I was brought up short by Luke 10:29. The lawyer’s question to Jesus after being forced to admit that loving your neighbour is second only to loving God.
“Wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus ‘Who is my neighbour?’” I ask myself – “Who am I in the story?”
Keith Simmonds is in ministry at Duncan United Church, where folk are engaged in seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with the Creator. He blogs at keithsimmonds.ca.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog. Spiritually Speaking, HERE