When politics was done for me, I had some decisions to make. As job offers started to come in, Jane and I sat down and determined that another approach would be best for me – community activism. It took a few weeks but I eventually opted to begin by helping two London organizations that mattered to me – the London Community Foundation and a remarkable group of women endeavouring to make their mark at My Sisters’ Place. It didn’t take long before I realized I was in a world of hurt and possibility at the same time.
My Sisters’ Place is located in a large old house across the street from the police station. On any given evening you’ll find about 40-50 women coming through the doors, seeking companionship, assistance, and training – almost all of them are completely homeless. Their lives are as difficult as you might imagine, but at My Sisters’ Place they find two commodities that are essential to their physical and mental health: hope and a future.
To put it into a phrase, My Sisters’ Place got to me – plain and simple. Along with my good friend and Sudan co-worker, Lynn Blumas, we were asked to assist the organization in getting more community profile. It turns out that my help wasn’t all that much-needed because it’s a story that tells itself in profound ways.
I recall speaking at one of the organization’s fundraisers over the Christmas season. I spoke of how the entire Christmas story hinged on one young women, unwed, in a strange place, and with nowhere to rest or give birth. The town of Bethlehem had “no room” for her, according to the ancient scriptures, and so she ended up in a stable. Everyone reading these lines knows what happened next. It was the birth of a new hope for humanity, a reminder that a single woman’s life and what comes from it can define a community. I didn’t want London to be like Bethlehem, I said that night. I want the city I live in to have room – lots of it – for women down and out on their luck and striving for a way forward. I broke down somewhat as I spoke in the realization of how little I knew of what these homeless women were facing. Christmas is my favourite time of year, but from that moment on it could never be complete until all those women struggling in London found room in the hearts and minds of local citizens.
What’s going on in our communities when we permit homelessness to continue growing in a city that would never wish it? It doesn’t have to be that way, and organizations like My Sisters’ Place are helping us find a new way forward. A friend of mine – Chief of Police Brad Duncan – reminded me once that without My Sisters’ Place the police would be hard pressed in locating the resources to assist the women. I realized immediately that he was right.
Below you’ll find a video I shot yesterday. It’s about another stable – not the one in Bethlehem, but one built by compassion that is opening its doors to women who struggle in off the street and seek to find a way forward with their lives. You’ll see an old coach house that was built during the American Civil War and yet which still stands today. While it’s main function was once to house horses, today it exudes hope. It will be the micro-enterprise centre for a remarkable new program designed to teach women the kind of skills necessary to make their own products as they make their own way in life. They will learn how to sell their products and start earning an income. Just as the stable in Bethlehem eventually gave hope to a struggling world, the old stable at My Sisters’ Place is reminding London that we can invest in the lives of women who can eventually find fulfilling and sustainable lives.
In a profound way I have been drawn into that stable behind that big old house and I have learned that I know so little about the challenges so many face, and I am humbled at my own lack of awareness. But these women are teaching me some life lessons and in the process I am becoming more human, more compassionate.
You’ll be drawn in too, if you but take an interest. Go to www.mysistersplacelondon.ca and learn more. You’ll see some of my wife, Jane’s, drawings, but you’ll learn some remarkable realities. Go to the Capital Campaign part of the site and see how you can help.
Sometimes a home is not really a place but a group of people. The moment you enter My Sisters’ Place you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Let’s never permit our communities to sink to the level where there is “no room” for those who struggle. And let’s never permit our respective communities to house such individuals in a building alone. Their proper place is among us. My Sisters’ Place is starting us on that direction. That’s why I chose the stable to volunteer my time once politics was over. There is something just so practical about it. Please help if you can.