“You know what’s making me mad right now? I’ll tell you,” Paul* said looking me in the eye. We were standing outside the entrance to the Greenhouse, a renovated house on the church property, waiting for the soup to heat up. Every Wednesday Progressive Housing Society and church volunteers come here to offer people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness a place to gather for conversation, coffee, and a bowl or two of soup. We call it the Wednesday Lunch Club.
Paul, one of the regulars, put out his cigarette and told me what angered him. “I know this woman who was into hard drugs, bad stuff. She got clean and she’s been clean for a year or so. She’s about thirty-five, not unattractive,” he said. “But here’s the thing: she can’t find a place to live. She’s got the money, but every time she calls about an apartment, as soon as soon as they hear she’s on welfare, click.” He imitated someone hanging up the phone. “So what does she do? She stays where she can, on people’s couches. And Esther, some of those people aren’t very nice. Way too often in the middle of the night, if a man lives there, he will wake her up and take advantage of her.”
Paul stepped over to the open door and grabbed the doorknob. “All she wants is this,” he said and stepped inside and closed the Greenhouse door behind him. Then he opened it again. “All she wants is a door that she can close and lock and feel safe on the other side.”
I kept thinking about what Paul said and talked about it over dinner with Fred. “It’s just not right. Something’s got to be done. Think of Wanda Mulholland and all the people on the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness. They have spent countless hours talking to officials and trying to raise awareness about homelessness. And still there isn’t even a homeless shelter in Burnaby–let alone housing for people like this woman.”
“And I keep hearing on the radio how much money government departments have spent with nothing to show for it.” Fred shook his head.
“We could give more money, but we can never give enough to house the people who need it. We have to do something more. We need to pray.”
“Alas, has it come to that?” someone once said when faced with a similar dilemma, as if resorting to prayer meant there was no hope, as if God were actually far away.
“We need someone big and powerful to make big and powerful changes in our city, so why not talk to the God of the universe?” I said.
So I speak to God often about the need for more doors and homes. I pray that I will see what Jesus is doing and join him in his work of bringing good news to the poor and setting the oppressed free. And I thank God that this woman has a friend like Paul.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
– Luke 4:18
Update on March 5, 2014
I saw “Paul” today and he told me his friend has found a door. She has finally found a place to live. Thank you so much, everyone, for your thoughts and prayers. And thanks, Paul, for being such a great friend to her and to so many others, including me.