It is a unique thing when one’s vocation and travel patterns intersect with familial history. As a student, there was a drive within me not only for the academic/theoretical bent but also the practical and pragmatic. Through my monastic formation within Druidery/Buddhism/Franciscanism the practice of pilgrimage was important.
These would intersect while working on my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts I served building ministries in the city, but also served aiding those without homes rediscovering themselves and what it meant to live in community and home. That’s right I was a humble shelter worker.
On vacations I would explore the history of Canada from coast to coast, doing outreach with those experiencing homelessness and discovering deeper truths of what it meant to be not only a Canadian, but a human being. It was in one of my earliest trips to Winnipeg, AB that I discovered the actual shelter history of Canada, through the Winnipeg Shelter that historically was a Methodist Outreach, and whose most famous lead minister/director was James Shaver Woodsworth.
I must admit this man’s pragmatic theology became a guide for my journey over the past 15 years. He was one of the members of Canada’s Social Gospel movement; was arrested at the Winnipeg General strike and moved from Orthodox Christianity to Pantheism (although under newer definitions I would say he became Panentheist). The minister would move from the ministry of the Methodist Church, to planting the Labour church, and his political leanings of socialism would lead him to join, aid in founding, and eventually lead the new party dubbed the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation. His political career would come to an end during the Parliamentary vote on Canada going to war with Nazi Germany. It was not because an evil should not be stopped, it was knowing that war as practiced in the world is not about right and wrong, it is about the profiteering of the wealthy and the culling of the poor. Woodsworth was the only Member of Parliament to vote no, it would cost him leadership of the CCF, and his seat.
But why does this man matter?
Why do I digress into travel history?
Simple, for the prophetic life of Woodsworth was shaped through service to others. It was grown out of a shelter environment. He spoke much, yet he also wrote and two of his books still ring true (once you put aside the eugenics stances of his time within): My Neighbour and Stranger at the Gates. Both works of the early 1900’s explore the work of the shelter, and the tie it has to the holistic care of a person.
The shelter debate has lost its historic centre of the narrative, for within both of Woodsworth’s books what is discovered is working with the whole person to aid them in transitioning from one point of their life to the next. Historically the Winnipeg Shelter was for new Canadians coming to settle the prairies. Now remember historically the Prairies and British Columbia were settled on mass to keep the encroachment by our neighbours to the South. Also historically it was an unfertile wasteland, which needed healthy communities for survival.
This was the role of the shelter. It was about aiding new Canadian families to prepare for the trek west, and also to build a new home. Not a house, not a subsistence existence, but a home. A home that was connected to other homes to build a community and thrive as a unit to create and grow a new society that was burgeoning that was Canada.
How did they do this?
They met the new comers where they were at. They discovered and worked to abate health needs. They worked on education, literacy, language, skills training. They looked to the communities where tracts of land were available, start up kits were given, but they also ensured that the community they were settling new families and persons into was a healthy community for them to be a part of and grow.
One just needs to look at the strong socio-cultural roots within sections of Alberta and Saskatchewan to see the effectiveness of historic housing readiness and effective placement in aiding the building of generational homes.
So as citizens this example leads to questions:
- What is community to you?
- Do you have a community around you?
- Do you have what you need to have a healthy life? For you? Love ones?
- Do you have a house or a home?
- Is the human right for housing or a home?
From my perspective of pilgrimage through history and country, I believe the human right is not for housing, for me it is about the human right of H-O-M-E.
The place where you belong and are safe and loved.