Faith leaders hold candlelight vigil for the homeless.
Around 60 people gathered with religious leaders from multiple faiths at St. George’s Anglican Church on World Homelessness Day, Oct. 10, to hold a candlelight vigil and raise awareness of the plight facing homeless Montrealers.
World Homelessness Day is relatively new, only being observed since 2010. Organizers at St. George’s chose a vigil prayer service to acknowledge the day, something normally reserved for the night before a funeral, because they wanted to celebrate the lives of those who may not have been mourned when they died.
“Nobody stood by the graves of those we celebrate today,” said Rev. Steven Mackison of St. George’s during his opening remarks.
Mackison was joined by Rabbi Boris Dolin, Iman Musabbir Alam and Alan Harrington. Harrington is an Ojibway community leader who operates the Wolf Pack Street Patrol, which focuses on the Indigenous homeless population of Montreal, but provides aid to all.
After prayers from the four traditions had concluded, Mackison invited those in attendance to come to the front of the church and light a candle in memory of someone who passed away due to the hardships of life on the street.
The virtuousness of helping those in need is a belief common to most major world faiths, from the Abrahamic religions, to Buddhism and Confucianism. St. George’s congregation coordinates with various other faith groups to provide daily assistance to homeless people. For people of faith, facing homelessness is often a daily fact of life, not something to be regarded just once a year.
The same is true of many shelters and homeless aid organizations throughout the city. Hardships posed by homelessness often don’t take people’s lives suddenly (although a few times a year, they do), but these organizations see the effects. “The people passing away are often passing away in hospitals or in the palliative care centre at la Maison du Père,” said Samuel Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission.
Launched in May 2017, la Maison du Père’s palliative care program has 10 spots for end-of-life care available to homeless people. Welcome Hall Mission works closely with them, and Watts said that, on average, the two charities arrange about 45 funerals per year.
The most recent numbers from the city of Montreal estimate that there are around 3,000 homeless people living here. Of that number, approximately 400 sleep on the streets, while 2,000 are in shelters or transitional housing, and another 500 are in prison or the hospital.
Watts said the most common ailments that the Welcome Hall Mission treats at its emergency shelter are injuries from lack of proper footwear, infected wounds and unmedicated chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Chronic homelessness in Montreal is “completely solvable” but requires a long-term strategy, said Watts. “We work with people, help them get apartments and then we stick with them.” Welcome Hall Mission employees will periodically check in with those they have helped find lodging and help them navigate the necessary steps so they can stand on their own two feet.
Rev. Mackison also argued it is about more than just shelter. “It’s a more deeply spiritual issue,” he said. “I think we are all looking for a home, and home is more than four walls, it’s a connection and a meaningful relationship.”
Photo by Kenneth Gibson.