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hands of homeless man with delivered meal

Hope beneath the overpass

When, in the fall of 2019, Dwight returned to work at YSM Evergreen Centre, there was a new vision to reach out to youth and individuals living under the Gardiner Expressway. “There are 50 – 70 people living in those areas [under the bridge and along the Lakeshore], I have come into contact with about 50 since we started the outreach in November. I’ve developed a lot of good relationships there. We’d go out and sit, have coffee and listen to them.”

From a man in his late 70s, to a family with children aged 8 and 12, Dwight says in his 20 years of ministry, including 16 years working at Evergreen, he has never seen so much pain in one place. “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but never this level of brokenness. You see the physical, and just imagine the mental and emotional damage.”

Dwight remarked on the explosion of people living under the bridge since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “A lot of these people have decided to live under the bridge because they didn’t feel safe in shelters. And with the pandemic, physical distancing was really hard in a shelter, they decided to rough it out here.”

Many of those Dwight talks to want to find housing, and know a stable home would make a huge difference in their lives. With this in mind, YSM is working with Streets to Homes to support those living under the Gardiner off the street. In the meantime, YSM’s outreach team makes the trip every afternoon to take vital supplies and food to this community. “There is a willingness, but the opportunity is lacking. They’ve been hurt by the system and it’s hard to build trust with a new worker. We try to keep them alive for one more day, so that they can get to that place, a home, or detox or a shelter. When you’re so focused on finding a meal for the day, anything beyond that doesn’t seem like a reality.”

“Some days my hope is shaken, but what I see is that they have one more day, and another day, and another. We can participate in that and we can hope for them and provide a tangible source of hope and support so they can reach out for change when they are ready.”

“The experience has been a good reality check,” says Dwight. “There’s an interesting contrast here. Essentially there is 70 yards of an economic gap. You have people in abject poverty, pitching tents in the shadows, living only 70 yards from middle and upper-middle class people in tall, glimmering buildings. People eating well living next to people who, if they’re lucky, get one meal a day.”

“We’ve actually had three of them come up to Evergreen recently! I jump up when I see them, I’m so excited they’ve made it! They’ve been through a lot and the fact they took the trip is huge. They see the logo on the building and they see something safe.”

“We can give supports, we can give information – those are definitely needed. But I think it starts with dignity. Even if you don’t have change to give them at a stop light, or a job or clothes for them, you can still look them in the eye and acknowledge their humanity, for who they are.”

Thank you for reading this story, to understand the hope and care you provide to all those YSM serves. Your support makes it possible for Dwight and his team to reach neighbours who need us most, to offer the life-line they need to find hope and a better future.

Tent city under Gardiner Expressway