Project417 in the News at Christianity.ca – Volunteers Give Hope to the Homeless

Back in March, one of our volunteers, Michael Dyet, had written an article about his experiences helping out on a Project417 Sandwich Run to the homeless on the streets of Toronto – certainly one of the most insightful commentaries I’ve seen regarding our work with the homeless. Michael’s church, North Bramalea United Church, have been long time partners with Project417 – Ekklesias Inner City Ministries. They bring a group of enthusiastic volunteers down to help the homeless every year, usually in the depths of winter when our volunteer ranks thin down. I remember Michael’s group as being very engaged in the street outreach we hosted for them – you could tell they were establishing a real communication with our homeless friends – not just “doing good works”.  I published Michael’s article on the Project417 website and submitted it to the online editor of Christianity.ca, (a ministry of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada – EFC), and they agreed and re-printed the piece giving important exposure to the plight of the homeless in Toronto.

Visit Project417.com soon to register your group. Remember, we are not limited to church groups, anyone can help. Homelessness affects our whole community and Christianity has no monopoly (nor should it) on charitable works. Some of our more effective and regular groups include the cast of We Will Rock You, the popular Toronto musical and Meet Market Adventures, a singles networking club. If you’d just like to join in yourself with one of our scheduled groups, you can visit our online calendar at

calendars.yahoo.com/nehemiaheffect

Read Michael’s article, below, at christianity.ca   –

Sandwich Run in the “Big Smoke”

A group of volunteers visit the downtown core of Toronto to give out bag lunches to the homeless and to learn about life.

by Michael Dyet

The outing begins in the late afternoon at our church where the bag lunches are made and packed. The mood is festive and friendly although there is an undercurrent of uncertainty about the experience we are about to have. We move to the sanctuary for a briefing of how the night will unfold and a moment of prayer. Then we split into carpools and head for the “Big Smoke” – Toronto!

7:15 finds the twenty-two of us behind a mission at Harbord and Spadina shuffling in the 10-degree cold to keep warm. One of the trip leaders gives a short talk about what we are about to see, the root causes, the do’s and don’tsWe learn that many of the homeless people in Toronto are not from the city. They migrate there from surrounding municipalities – Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Barrie – believing that there is more for them in the downtown core. We learn that some arrive here not by choice. Bused in from the affluent Peel Region where only 200 shelter beds exist in an area that supports a population of one million plus. [ eds note – Peel just slashed the number of beds to 100 ] Bused in and dropped off at a shelter. But there is no bus to take them back the next day. Welcome to the streets of Toronto. I wonder…

What kind of social safety net operates on the “out of sight, out of mind” principle?

The leader warns us that we might encounter some “NIMBYs” who will tell us we can’t give out food in their neighbourhood. We learn that NIMBY is an acronym for “not in my backyard”. They believe that giving food to people living on the streets enables and encourages them to be homeless. I wonder…

What kind of willful ignorance does it take to believe that anyone would actually choose to be homeless?

read more || Visit Project417.com

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What is a Sandwich Run?

Have a real conversation with our friends.A sandwich run is simply volunteers delivering nutritious bag lunches to homeless street people by walking well travelled routes in the downtown area where street people live.  It is a relational outreach – a grassroots community activity – in addition to delivering a meal to a hungry person, hopefully dialogue will occur and bridges of trust strengthened.

Here at Project417 Ekklesia Inner City Minsitries, we’ve been facilitating sandwich runs for almost twenty years. The main focus of the ministry is not simply delivering food to hungry street people. The key factor is communication through conversations with our friends on the street. We don’t try to be experts or counselors, rather we try to help our volunteers – ordinary people – engage with the homeless. This is true community demonstrated by the caring act of delivering a meal.

Anyone can volunteer with us by invitation after taking part in our orientation presented by experienced team leaders. Find out how truly liberating this volunteer experience can be – to step outside your personal comfort zone and meet our homeless friends on their own grounds.

Many churches have taken up “sandwich runs” in Toronto as a favorite activity for youth groups. But in their eagerness to provide an experience for their own youth, they overlook the deeper needs of the homeless they want to help. They focus on quantity, not quality – the sandwich runs become a mad dash around the city dropping bag lunches with as many homeless as possible, often even without asking the recipient simply ” Would you like a bag lunch?” I encounter these groups all the time, often as many as thirty or forty teens or younger children often accompanied by only a single adult. It becomes their charitable duty, rather than a ministry to reach people. While our friends on the street often tell us that they are encouraged by seeing the young people, and are thankful for the food, how can they be expected to engage in meaningful dialogue with someone who is fifteen or younger?  They crave mature discourse.  It would be wonderful to see more adults on sandwich runs – people who our street friends can relate to, and can understand some of the uniquely adult challenges they face such as family break-ups, job loss, abuse, addictions, psychological distress, relationship issues and so on.

Furthermore, these well meaning church groups are actually putting the safety of their youth at risk in not partnering with an inner city organization that provides experience, guidance and street saftey for their groups. I’ve actually seen church groups of dozens of children being herded by a single adult through Crack Central in Toronto with boxes of lunches and attempting to give lunches to dealers engaged in drug transactions. Not everyone on the streets, or in the parks of Toronto is homeless, or friendly and safe. I regularily encounter sleeping homeless people on street corners with more than a dozen bag lunches and other sundry styrofoam food trays piled up by their head or feet, obviously dropped there by an inexperienced group. And I doubt whether even one of them was prepared to check if that sleeping person was actually still breathing, or would know what to do if they discovered the person were in some physical distress.

I’ve had self-important church elders and youth pastors tell me “We’re doing God’s work and are under the divine protection of Jesus Christ”.  Christ doesn’t promise us safety from harm – on the contrary, He guarantees us conflict and confrontation if we follow Him in his work. It is wise to be prepared. At Project417 Ekklesia, we take that seriously. The safety of our groups is paramount, as is the effectiveness of our ministry to the homeless. Come on out and join us. Full details and calendar online at http://project417.com/sandwich

Project417 Newsletter – June 2008 – Help the homeless

This is the latest update to the work of Project417 – Ekklesia Inner City Ministries and their programs to help the homeless. Find out about volunteering with the homeless in Toronto. Newsletter topics: Sandwich Runs to the Homeless; Bloor Lansdowne Community Dinner; New Orleans Rebuilding; Homeless Street Outreach; volunteer homeless toronto

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Sandwich Run in the Big Smoke

The following is a short essay written by a recent volunteer on a Project417 sandwich run to the homeless in Toronto. It is insightful and genuine, thank-you Michael!

SANDWICH RUN IN THE BIG SMOKE

The outing begins in the late afternoon at our church where the bag lunches are made and packed. The mood is festive and friendly although there is an undercurrent of uncertainty about the experience we are about to have. We move to the sanctuary for a briefing of how the night will unfold and a moment of prayer. Then we split into carpools and head for the Big Smoke.

7:15 finds the twenty-two of us behind a mission at Harbord and Spadina shuffling in the -10 degree cold to keep warm. One of the trip leaders gives a short talk about what we are about to see, the root causes, the do’s and don’ts.

We learn that many of the homeless people in Toronto are not from the city. They migrate there from surrounding municipalities – Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Barrie – believing that there is more for them in the downtown core.

We learn that some arrive here not by choice. Bused in from the affluent Peel Region where only 200 shelter beds exist in an area that supports a population of one million plus. Bused in and dropped off at a shelter. But there is no bus to take them back the next day. Welcome to the streets of Toronto. I wonder…

What kind of social safety net operates on the “out of sight, out of mind” principle?

The leader warns us that we might encounter some “NIMBYs” who will tell us we can’t give out food in their neighbourhood. We learn that NIMBY is an acronym for “not in my backyard”. They believe that giving food to people living on the streets enables and encourages them to be homeless. I wonder…

What kind of willful ignorance does it take to believe that anyone would actually choose to be homeless?

We learn that the most an adult can get on social assistance in Toronto is $530 a month. The cheapest rooming house accommodation costs $400 a month. Some of these places are so bad it is preferable to live on the street. One of our group comments on the millions or billions of dollars spent to fight the war in Afghanistan and speculates on how many people could be fed with that money. I wonder…

What kind of value system operates on the basis that it makes more sense to spend money to kill people than to feed them?

We split into two groups and set out on our walk. There are fewer homeless people about tonight than usual because social assistance cheques came out this week enabling some to pay for shelter for a few days.

Our group leader stops in front of a fast food outlet and informs us it is known as “Hooker Harveys” because working girls often hang out in front while their pimps sit inside watching. There are no working girls there tonight. But still I wonder…

What becomes of hope when your life is no longer in your control?

The first homeless person we encounter is a man on a street corner holding what appears at first to be a bottle of water. He is wearing shorts overtop of jeans and a light jacket hanging open. Our leader engages him in conversation. He is good natured in a child-like way but suddenly backs away a few steps. We think he is going to leave but he points out that a police car has just pulled up to the corner. He says he has been drinking all day. He is, I think, concerned that the police will pick him up as a drunk.

He gladly accepts a bag lunch from us and thanks us genuinely. One of our group suggests he should pull up the hood on his jacket and tie the draw cord to keep out the wind. He explains that, if he were to get into a fight, the other person could grab the cord and use it to restrain him while he punches him in the head. I wonder…

What kind of life lessons does it take to teach you that protecting yourself from violence is more important than warmth on a cold night?

In a park we encounter a single man and a couple who gratefully accept the bag lunches we offer. A man on a bicycle approaches on the path behind us. We part to let him through but he stops when he reaches us and we realize he too is homeless. He smiles and says he has been following us for some time. He knows why we are out and is gracious in accepting the bag lunch. I wonder…

What kind of wounded pride does it take to follow a group for blocks working up the courage to approach them for something you know they have to offer but you can’t bring yourself to ask for?

We move along to Allan Gardens Park which is also unusually quiet. Our leader spots a man in the shadows a hundred feet away. She asks three members of the group to go to him and offer the bag lunch. They return with the news that he gratefully accepted the lunch and is surprised that there are not more people in the park tonight. I wonder…

What depth of loneliness does it take to drive you to the shadows of a frozen park in -10 degree weather hoping to find another homeless soul to converse with for awhile?

At an intersection our group leader suggests that we split in two and walk both sides of the street. On our side we encounter another homeless man who gratefully accepts the bag lunch and makes it a point to thank each one of us and shake our hands. As we walk on our leader tells us that the corner we just passed is known as “Crack Central” because Crack dealers regularly hang out near the working pay phone. I wonder…

What kind of soulless person makes their living feeding the slow death of homeless people who have to choose between food and drugs – when they have money at all?

Ahead of us we see a homeless person who clearly has a mental condition. He is running down the sidewalk shouting angrily at an imaginary person in the street. Our group leader talks a bag lunch from our sack and advises us to walk past the man without engaging him. She hangs back and offers him the bag lunch as he passes. But he does not notice her because he is running to accost a man in a van that is turning the corner. I wonder…

What kind of horror must it be to be lost in the caverns of your own faltering mind with no one who is close enough to you to reach through the darkness and pull you back?

Our outing ends at a Tim Hortons where we gladly warm ourselves with coffee, muffins and donuts. We gather across the street for a debrief. Our group leader asks us what the one thing is that all of these homeless people have in common. We offer the obvious things but arrive at the deeper truth. What they all lack is love and community. They are the forgotten ones who left (or lost) “home” because there was no love there. Now they wander the streets in search of it.

My thoughts return to the solitary man in the shadows in Allan Gardens. I imagine that the warmth of food in his stomach is welcome. The warmth of a roof over his head would be even more welcome. But I wonder…

On this cold March night, would he gladly give up both for the companionship of a single person to free him from the prison cell of his loneliness?

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