Years ago, my youngest daughter and I volunteered for one of the ‘Community Inns’ operated by Inn from the Cold. The Community Inns were a network of faith and community based locations that every night housed homeless individuals and families. Children and their parents rotated from one church basement to the next, never staying in the same place more than one night.
It was a gift and a measure of community’s compassion to ensure everyone had a safe place to stay at night. But it was still a challenge for the families who had no stability, no capacity to provide their children a sense of security and home.
One year, our regular volunteering date happened on Christmas Eve morning. Along with a bevy of volunteers, our job was to wake the families up, help them pack up their things, serve breakfast and then clean up after the families left to get on the bus back to the main pick-up location.
On this morning, my daughter came over to me with tears streaming down her face. A little boy had asked her, ‘how will Santa find me if we don’t have a home?’
We stopped volunteering shortly thereafter. For me, the realization that our ‘charity’ was contributing to a painful reality for children was more than I could handle. I believed we could do better. And as a community we have.
Inn from the Cold no longer uses the Community Inn network for overnight shelter. All families experiencing housing crisis are housed in the main emergency shelter until appropriate, supportive housing is found. Emergency shelter is not ideal, but it is an integral part to helping families weather housing crisis and to fulfilling on our vision of ending child and family homelessness.
Yesterday, we held the opening event for Journey House 2, a newly renovated apartment building that the Inn bought earlier this year to provide a place to call home for 10 vulnerable families. It will also be a community hub with a resource centre for community engagement, courses and activities.
The day was amazing.
Donors, stakeholders, staff, government officials, and a woman who will soon be a resident of the building gathered together to celebrate what can happen when community joins together to take action. Journey House 2 was funded through a mortgage from the Calgary Foundation and Claire’s Campaign, an annual fund-raising initiative spearheaded by the amazingly philanthropic Gary Nissen. The renovations, overseen by Centron, were entirely funded by donors. All $700K.
The building is beautiful. The suites have been completely outfitted by Centron Cares and other caring Calgarians. They are spacious, light-filled and welcoming.
As Adriana, a mother of three boys who will be moving into Journey House 2 so poignantly described it, without Journey House, she and her boys would still be like all the other families at The Inn, waiting.
And now, they are home.
This Christmas, as my beloved and I juggle renovations on our new home and living in temporary accommodation as we wait to complete the final step of our move, I am reminded of all the families who are still ‘waiting’ at the Inn.
There is hope. Journey House 2 represents an opportunity for 10 families to stop ‘waiting’ as they move home.
Yet, there are still more families waiting.
Which is why we must never stop dreaming and building and creating opportunities for families to find their way home so that one day, no child will ask, “how will Santa find me if we don’t have a home?”