October: NIMBY

I wish I had a picture of the day police and bylaws converged on the mission. All of their vehicles with their lights shining, engines running, and voices booming. All of the people in uniforms had come to clear the mini tent city that had developed in front of the mission. I had only been at the mission for a month and I had just returned from a couple days off for Christmas. I had already talked to everyone about moving on. Some had started packing up their belongs for their journey to “who knows where” and some were hunkered down.

One uniformed fella who I had just met a week before said “Mike, what are you going to do about this? Your people are making a mess out here”

I don’t know why I took such offence at this, but perhaps it was because “your people” was spit with such distain or maybe it was because I actually thought “I am not one of “these people.” Ashamed, I fear it was likely a combination of both. Interestingly, I know now that the Lord was teaching me something because the community kept spitting this same term at me.

“Your people are leaving garbage in front if my store, come get it.”

“Your people are loitering under my awning, come move them on.”

“Your people, your people, people.”

Once I even snapped back, “these aren’t my people, they are our people. We are a community.” Which received a “just move them the !@&7 along” response.

I quickly realized that I was wrong. Even though we are neighbours we aren’t part of the same community. Three years later, and through many errors and the continual patience of our Heavenly Father, I have learned many lessons. But perhaps the greatest of these lessons is that I realized that these are my people. We laugh together, we save lives together and we grieve together. They protect me and I protect them. We fight and argue, then we hug and forgive, only to fight and argue a couple days later. My people are straightforward. They let me know when they think I suck. They let me know when I have gained weight and my shirt doesn’t fit, or if my fly is down, or if something is under my nose. My people welcomed me into their lives three years ago with all of my misconceptions and ignorance because they saw my heart before I saw theirs. They trust me with their stories even though I am too ashamed to share my own. My people are the strongest, frailest, happiest, saddest, most confused, most enlightened, most deceptive and the most honest people I have met.

Recently, I woke up with the painful conviction that my people are sleeping on 50 cots in an open room. They are 19 to 86 years old. They are sleeping next to a person they don’t know, they are climbing out of their wheelchair with a catheter bag in their hand and laying down next to someone who may not be able to sleep all night. They are reaching their 70 year old hands across the gap between cots to touch their spouse’s fingers one last time before eyes close. I know we are making the best of what we have. I know SUMS has an excellent staff that surrounds our guests with care and compassion, but is this the best we can do?

Last month, BC Housing proposed to build 60 units of housing in the downtown area of a Surrey community. This community BIA, Chamber of Commerce including local church representatives spoke out unanimously against it. It seems that the message was “right project but the wrong area.” I struggled with this but in the end I agreed. I want my people to end up in a community that embraces them at their core. I want my people to be in a community that says we can make it through this together.  I want my people to be welcomed with open arms into the heart of a community that isn’t so frail that it fears 60 people moving in to their core would ruin their community.

So for now, we will continue to welcome hundreds a day into our doors to receive food, community support from our outreach, warm clothing and hopefully a lot of love. We will continue to fill 50 cots with warm bodies. We will make mistakes and forgive each other. We will continue to serve our community as Christ has compelled us, and my people will be better off homeless on a cot then forced into a community that didn’t want them.

For BC Housing, the hunt continues for communities in Surrey that will lovingly accept people who I am honoured to call “my people.” I am just thrilled that they accept me as one of their people. It is one thing to come and drop off boxes of juice and cookies in Whalley, but what about dropping off a pie to someone warmly welcomed into your neighbourhood despite their addiction and poverty. People contact me often and ask for help finding one of their “street friends” a home, but are you willing to love my people and except them into your community. Not in the industrial outskirts, but in the core. Let me know because I would love to be part of making that happen.

I hope BC Housing is able to find a loving and accepting community for these people who are in SUMS community. Until then, I recommend we stay close together, right here, in Whalley’s Corner.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Matthew 25

Written by Mike Musgrove