‘Radical hospitality’: West London church takes in neighbors fleeing homelessness

A west London church has made a dozen Londoners with a history of homelessness feel welcome after they faced opposition when a home stabilization program moved into their Oakridge neighbourhood.

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A west London church is making a dozen Londoners with a history of homelessness feel welcome after they faced opposition when a transitional housing scheme moved into their Oakridge area.

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“Some people certainly feel that this shouldn’t be in our part of the city,” said Rev. Canon Kevin George, of St Aidan’s Anglican Church on Oxford Street West.

“Most of us who travel downtown in some way frequently bemoan the fact that there is a problem downtown. But when agencies or the city or anybody else does the work of trying to find housing for people and starts looking further afield, suddenly we don’t want to see that out here,” he said.

“Well you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

The church’s effort comes after the Ark Aid Street Mission last month moved its Wish to Be Home London transitional housing program to two apartment buildings in Oakridge after failing to renew its lease in a downtown building.

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The Be Home London initiative grew out of the WISH (Winter Interim Solution to Homeless) program two years ago, when Ark Aid and other organizations helped run pop-up winter shelters for the homeless in caravans on Elizabeth Street.

Since then, more than 100 people have benefited from the housing stabilization initiatives, which help people transition out of homelessness by providing 24-hour addiction treatment, physical and mental health support, and help find permanent housing.

As part of its efforts, St. Aidan’s has helped furnish Ark Aid’s two leased properties, which receive no city or provincial funding and rely on community donations.

It is also working to offer a weekly meal program for program participants and is planning a barbecue to help the community meet their new neighbors.

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“Right now it’s about making people feel comfortable here,” George said.

“There is no excuse for people dying on our streets. We can be a better community, but we all have to pitch in,” he added. “And when we heard that Ark was moving right next door, it was an opportunity for us to strive to be a radically hospitable community, just as Jesus intended.”

Deanna Burtch, program manager of Be Home London, said she could understand that some Oakridge residents might need to get used to their presence, but finding a place where they could create a community living environment was a challenge.

“There aren’t many opportunities in the city that support our type of program or the people we work with,” she said.

But the new environment had a positive impact on the participants, Burtch said.

“We understand that our residents have behaviors that they may not be used to, so we’re trying to get used to our neighbors as well so that everyone can live together peacefully,” she said.

“But this gives (our residents) a chance. . . to get out of that core lifestyle and have a chance to see something outside of the hustle and bustle and what they are used to downtown.”

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