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Something Beautiful: Our Mission of Hope

Remarks by David Kilgour at

The Annual Dinner of The Mission, Tudor Hall, Ottawa, 3 May 2002

We have all just had a good taste of our Mission: a memorial for those in our community who died in 2001; an excellent dinner,  a musical contribution, eloquent words about the work from Board Chair Robert Nelson and Executive Director Diane Morrison;  an encouraging account of a life skills graduate, John, and a gentle plea for donations from Paul McKechnie.  

It will have struck many of you, as it does me, that having another speaker after all that gives a whole new dimension to the word superfluous. Let me, however, attempt to reinforce a few points from what we have just heard.

Who is our neighbour?

“How can God love me when I am like this?”  Diane Morrison hears from people at the Mission.  “We are dealing with people that tumbled to the bottom,...and we try to help them get back up and build their souls.  First, and more importantly, to give them inner strength and then to work on the outer body.”

Isn’t it our duty as believers to break down walls between people/peoples and to extend our hands in friendship to all?  Our love, like God’s, must be directed first to vulnerable brothers and sisters.  We must boldly offer a light, not paralysis, to communities everywhere, especially in a post-September 11 world.  As Isaiah said  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me .... He has sent me to heal the broken hearted.”

Shouldn’t the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta be our model?  The aim of her Missionaries of Charity was “Let every action of mine be something beautiful for God.”   Many people thought her 40 years in the slums of India was social work only.  She noted: “People think we are social workers, but we are not. We serve Jesus. I serve Jesus 24 hours a day.”

Some of you will have read in our Update ( for Winter 2001 about the reunion of Glenn and Devin.  After four years or so in the world of drugs and the streets, Devin left our Mission and met his father Glenn.  Diane’s account indicates that the two of them came to the Mission after Christmas.  Devin looked healthy and they spoke of the healing that had taken place as he worked on the stained glass windows for a church in Quebec.

 “This was Devin and Glenn's best Christmas in many years.  To celebrate this year of blessings, they held a special Newfoundland Christmas dinner, complete with toutons, Jigg's Dinner and the trimmings.  Fifty-two special friends, many from out of town, showed up to celebrate.  Donations were made to support the Mission's meal program.  This was their gift of love to those who need The Mission.”

 An equally compelling story is told by Laird Eddy about a Christmas dinner at the Mission.  A young women called Laird as he passed her aisle.  “Excuse me sir,” she said, “but I have no presents for my children. Can you help me?” Among all the donations that came that Christmas, Laird was able to find two packs of cards, chocolate bars, two stuffed toys, right sized hats and mitts and crayons.  He put everything in two gift bags and brought them to her.  There were tears in her eyes as she took them.  “I realized once again how special it can be when you, our donors, work with us to share what we have with those who are less fortunate,” says Laird.

 “I don't believe,” he adds, “ it was the gifts that touched her so much as the knowledge that there were people who cared enough to help a stranger.  In small ways, we bring the love of God to the voices in the crowd around us that cry out for our help. It never takes much to make someone's life better.    I want you to know that all the gifts, both large and small, that you gave through the Mission this Christmas, have changed people's lives for the better.  On behalf of that mother, her two children and the large crowd of people who need our help every day, thank you for your continuing support!”

 “Why are you helping me?” is a common question for Laird too.  He replies: “Because I care, I want to help!  Everybody that comes to the Mission says that there is no other shelter home like it.  Some of these people have travelled across the country.  The reason is simple, staff here genuinely care.”

 The quality of the food, the cleanliness of the rooms and most importantly the sincerity of the staff and volunteers is a special trait not found in all shelter homes.  We are trying our best to give people hope, but how can you give people that?  The mission has proven that you can. All you have to do is to really care.

Mission Programs

Let me mention only three of our programs:

1.                  Life Skills - a six month program that helps clients with addictions.

It’s targeted at those who lack basic life skills and who, as a result, are homeless or at risk of being so.  It’s a 24-hour service with at least one life skills counsellor on staff at all times to help restore confidence by dealing with the issues that create current circumstances.

2.                  Hospice -  targets members of the homeless community who are

suffering from a terminal illness.  Many homeless people die on the streets, in rooming houses, and in shelters and some spend their last days in a hospital.  A young man, Jim, was the inspiration for the Hospice.  He had HIV/Aids, a drug addiction, mental illness and an addiction to smoking.  “We try to give them quality of life,” says someone who works in the program.  Seventeen persons have been admitted to the Hospice since it opened, and three quarters of them have re-connected with their families.

3.                  Spiritual Services - This is entirely voluntary,  but many accept the

invitation.  The Mission provided over 300 chapel services in 2001 with average attendance between 25 and 50.  There were Bible studies and Christian encouragement on a daily basis.  Encouraging a good relationship with our Lord is why we exist as a Mission.  The services we provide arise from the love that God has called us to share with one another. 

Some current stats

 The average number of people who stay each night is now 225, compared to 76 in 1994. Due to overcrowding, we had to add over 50 beds in 2001.  We can now accommodate up to 230 people a night without using floor mats. When necessary however, mats are used in the chapel area.  There were times in the year 2001 when mats had to be used in our lounge and eating areas as well.

 Too often, people have to make a choice between paying their rent and buying food.  The Mission provides meals to many in the community who cannot afford food.  In calender 2001, we served over 220,000, as I mentioned earlier, hot nutritious meals to the hungry of Ottawa.  That number will rise to over 250,000 this year.  Feeding the hungry is one of our most important ministries.  Without the help of you our donors we would not be able to do this.  A special thank you has to go out to our suppliers and the Ottawa Food Bank for making this particular miracle possible.

Currently, we have 185 emergency hostel beds for those who need a place to stay.  We also have 45 rooms that provide supportive living for pensioners, the mentally ill and those who are in the life skills program. The average length of stay in the rooms is six months for people in the life skills program. Pensioners stay much longer, some indefinitely.

The average length of stay in the emergency shelter is about 45 days (up from 24 in 1994).  Some stay longer depending on their circumstances.  The average age is 38, but ages range from under 18 to over 65.

In the past seven years, we have seen occupancy increase by almost 100 percent.  Ottawa has responded by sharing time and resources.  In the past few years the number of donors supporting The Mission has increased, thank God, from 3,000 to 30,000.  We have been reaching out through newspaper ads and mail and the residences of this city have been generous in their response.  As a result, The Mission has been able to respond to growing needs and institute programs that give people a second chance in life.


People have different reactions when homeless persons approach them for money.  “I work for my money, why can’t they” is a common response.  “I‘m worried if I give them money then they will use it to buy drugs or alcohol, and that way I didn’t help” is another.  In many cases, this is the unfortunate reality.

Homelessness can occur to anyone: a teenager escaping an abusive care giver; a senior citizen on a fixed income facing a rent or tax increase; a child whose parents suddenly become unemployed.  The spiral from stability to distress can begin in a five-minute meeting in which someone is fired from a job.

The number of homeless Canadians has been steadily rising mainly in urban centres, but there are still no reliable statistics on many people live on the streets or in substandard shelter.

The 2001 Census attempted to track the homeless. Stats Canada identified every homeless shelter in Canada; on May 15, everyone who spent the previous night in a homeless shelter was to be counted.  Census workers in major cities also visited parks, drop-in centres and soup kitchens to ask those who spent the night outside to complete questionnaires.  The result for this survey will be published in May 2003.


There is no one cause of homelessness, of course, but contributing factors can include:

1        Addiction,

2.                  Mental illness,  

3.                  Financial restraints. Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, child care, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when resources cover only some  necessities. Often it is housing that gets dropped.

My Brother Don

I might add here a word about my late brother Donald, who died of cancer in 1989.  Don was one of those lucky people who on the surface had every advantage.  He attended a private school and summered at a luxurious cottage at the Lake of the Woods.  He played football for his university varsity team and was head of his fraternity.  At the age of 19, he graduated from university and at 23 wrote a column as theatre critic for the Montreal Gazette.

Unfortunately, his work as a critic seems to have affected his exposure to alcohol and drugs and before very long he was unable to write so he left his job.  For the next 15 years he was an alcoholic.  Thanks to a chapter of AA and a remarkable women, Carmen, he was finally able to drop the booze.

Had he lived in Ottawa, our Mission might have played a role in his recovery. Perhaps the life skills program might have helped him to address his alcoholism.

My brother died 12 years before our Hospice for the homeless was opened, the first palliative care centre for the homeless in Canada.  He was never homeless to my knowledge, thanks to Carmen, and he spent his last six months in the hospital St. Luc in east Montreal, where he was very well treated by a really caring doctor and staff.  Perhaps some of you have a family member who suffers an addiction problem and a life terminating illness.  


Greatest Needs Today

Our greatest needs today at the Mission are:

1.         People to sponsor a brunch at their own church,

2.         Volunteers,

3.         Items such as towels, coats, gloves, socks, underwear, clothing, shoes, shampoo and non-perishable foods,

It is no accident that the shelters for homeless men/women in Ottawa and virtually everywhere else on this continent are supported by faith-based communities.  Those who work as volunteers at our Mission or elsewhere know that faith is what sustains us all when we are discouraged.


But let me close with three rhetorical questions:

1.                  Is it not encouraging to believers of every  faith that the Queen Mother, whose spirituality was at the centre of one of the most public-service-oriented lives anywhere, evidently attracted more people world wide to observe her funeral really than did Winston Churchill’s?

2.                  Is it not good to read the cover story of the April 1 of Maclean’s magazine, “Living the Faith——Nine Canadians who put their beliefs into action”?  I was struck by the importance of the Bible in the lives of several of the nine women and men featured.

3.                  Is Reg Bibby’s latest book, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada (Stoddart), not encouraging to believers of all faiths?  I gather it concludes that God is very much alive in the hearts and minds of Canadians and that if our various faith groups do the right things they are primed for major renewal.  Fully 81 per cent of Bibby’s respondents across Canada attested to their belief in God.  Three out of four Canadians say they pray at least occasionally and nearly half claim to have personally experienced God.  His 2000 survey, moreover, indicates that for the first time in years church attendance among teens is on the rise.

God bless our Mission.

God bless you all

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