As my young daughters learn the Christmas story, I am reminded of local parallels. A clear part of the story deals with transient homelessness, and the kindness of strangers to those in need. A young couple, forced into travel by government bureaucracy and taxation, find themselves without a place to stay and resort to sleeping in a stable, even as they give birth to their first child. In some ways this story seems quaint to us now, but in others it is all too real.
Like most cities, Barrie lacks sufficient affordable housing, and many people find themselves without a place to stay. Some are long-time residents who have lost a job or home, while others have recently come to Barrie seeking a better life. They enter our shelter system, but that system is also overburdened. Literally, there is no room at the inn. Yet just like in the season’s tale, there is an alternative. Rather than a barn, it is a church basement. Several Barrie churches donate their facilities for overnight emergency shelter in the winter, and many other partner churches provide meals or volunteers.
But more volunteers are still needed, there remain spots unfilled. The most difficult spots to fill (although not to work) are the overnight shifts and the days around Christmas. It takes no money to provide this most basic assistance, just the gift of a few hours of your time. In particular, if you are a woman and can do an evening or overnight shift once a month, or a man available first thing in the morning, the program really needs you. There is also a continuing need for spare or back-up volunteers to be on call, especially during the busy holiday season when plans may suddenly change. Some families invite a needy person to share Christmas with them; perhaps someone in your family can support this program on that day, instead.
When we hear the Christmas story, we like to believe we would have treated this young couple kindly. Well, you still have that chance, for as that baby, full grown later said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” I find this an inspiring idea regardless of one’s personal beliefs. If we are to judge a society by how they treat the least among them, then you can play a role in redeeming our Canadian society and our Barrie community, right here and now.
To volunteering with Barrie’s Out of the Cold program, or donate, visit www.BarrieOutoftheCold.org or call 705-331-1396. I wish you a holiday of family, friends, food, and a place to share them.
Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.