In Midland, Ontario, spare change is still in demand, homeless people are looking for support and places to stay, and others on the fringe just need someone to talk to. Situations don’t change quickly but given the opportunity, they can.
In a rubber-meets-the-road type of ministry, The Salvation Army is combing streets, parks and trails—anywhere marginalized people can be found— to meet the needs of those who might never be comfortable coming into a Salvation Army building.
“This type of outreach is critical to contacting and working with hard-to-reach groups,” says front-line worker Denis. “We are meeting people on their own turf.” While he and coworker Tom ‘pound the pavement’ they connect, encourage and assist anyone who expresses a need for service or support.
“Issues we encounter range from poverty and homelessness to mental health, physical health concerns, prostitution and addictions,” says Denis. “We build relationships of trust so they have somewhere to turn to when they are ready to reach out and seek assistance.”
Street outreach is not a new concept for The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army began in 1852 as a Christian outreach to the hungry, homeless and poor people on the streets of London, England. Founder William Booth’s passion for the marginalized in need of comfort and hope laid a firm foundation for the organization.
Everyday Denis and Tom bridge gaps between hope and fear. As they strive to understand and evaluate problems, they not only give on-the-spot assistance, but link clients with community supports based on their needs.
“For some it is as simple as a pair of shoes, bus fare or directions to the nearest food bank,” says Denis. “For others it is as complex as securing a mental health assessment for someone displaying unhealthy behavior or referring someone to a detox facility.
“People are not in the margins by coincidence or without reason,” continues Denis. He recalls finding a 65-year-old woman living in her car. Unkempt, dirty and desperate, she wasn’t interested in help. A broken marriage, eviction and financial ruin left her trying to survive in her last major possession.
While it took some time for the woman to trust Denis, his continued interest in her well-being put him in a position to intervene. Today she lives in a seniors’ residence with supports such as counselling and medical attention.
At the end of the day, Denis and Tom have talked with dozens of people in different circumstances. Many ask for some kind of assistance, even if it’s just another visit.