Highlights from our 2019 Walk: Second Station

2019 Second Station: Sanctuary

Greg Cook, Outreach Worker at Sanctuary, Steering Committee member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network.

It’s good to be with you today! Each week I walk alongside people who call the alcoves and grates of these streets home. Today I have been asked to share some reflections on the intersection of Jesus’ death, Good Friday and the housing crisis that destroys the lives of so many of our friends and neighbours here in Toronto.

First I’d encourage you to look around, to look up. We are in the heart of Toronto’s Central Business District. Less than 500m to the east of us is the Toronto Stock Exchange. This building behind me is called Sunlife Financial Tower. Manulife Financial is over there. Other corporations within 500m are Adaptive Asset Management, MCAN Mortgage Corporation, and Clarica Trust Company. Just a couple blocks to the east of us at the intersection of Bay and King are the corporate headquarters of TD Bank, BMO, Scotia Bank and CIBC. This is the epicentre of wealth and power in Canada. A block further south on Bay at Wellington St is the corporate headquarters of RBC. The windows on the RBC headquarters contain 71,000oz of gold; that means each individual window pane contains $298 dollars worth of gold. This is the infrastructure that makes billions of profit off of soaring housing costs and the debt of individual households. Temples of Finance in the age of austerity. Two blocks to the north of us on University Avenue is the Canada Life Tower. It was built between 1929-1931. Shovels went in the ground at the height of the roaring 20’s and it was finished in the depth of the Great Depression. The observation room on the 17th floor was specifically designed to turn its back to the city that lies north of it. The windows look to the west, south and east. The north view has been covered over, erased. Canada Life Insurance didn’t want its wealthy white clients contemplating what were poor neighbourhoods like Chinatown, the Jewish market of Kensington or the Eastern European neighbourhood of Christie Pits.

This architecture of greed would rather not be reminded of the casualties it produces: the suffering and pain designed for newcomers, Indigenous communities, racialized families, and hundreds of thousands of Toronto’s poor.

Just minutes ago we walked by a small grate at the entrance of a nondescript alley. We know that this was where a 58 year old woman named Hang Vo slept for the first two weeks of 2019. It’s also where she was struck by a garbage truck and killed in the morning hours of January 15. Hang Vo arrived in Canada in 1977 as a refugee from Vietnam. She died this year without a house to live in; she was poor and stateless. This year, Toronto has a record number of people who are homeless. These are levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. Over 8000 people sleep in shelters and about 1000 people are forced to cram onto mats in warehouses and temporary structures. Hundreds more sleep under bridges, in City Parks and city alleyways. As rental prices have doubled in the last 10 years, homelessness has also doubled. Minimum wage, Ontario Disability Support Pension and Ontario Works, have not doubled in that time. Paying for basic needs like housing and food is impossible for hundreds of thousands of Torontonians. This horrifying situation is forcing people onto the street.

In the same month that Hang Vo died, we also know that at least six other people died without housing. Chris Savoyard died in an alley on January 3. Crystal Papineau died trying to get clothing on January 8. Tabitha Lewis died of an overdose on January 10. William James Sisson on January 14, and another man, whose name we have been asked not to release, on January 25. Yet another man’s remains were also found on January 25. We haven’t been able to find out his name or date of death. Unfortunately this is the norm. City stats acknowledge that about two people in Toronto die each week without housing. The situation is catastrophic and as governments cut public housing budgets, public health funding and close Overdose Prevention Sites, the numbers of those who die from these policies of greed will increase.

In this context what does justice look like? What does it mean to love my neighbour in this mountainous landscape of inequality?

What might the death of a homeless, socially marginalized teacher, who we remember today, teach us about how we might respond?

Jesus was the son of two asylum-seekers. He spent much of his time caring for those who were sick and rebuking the life choices of the wealthy and powerful. A week before he was killed by the state, this is what he did.

Mark 11:15-19
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?
But you have made it a den of robbers.’
18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Jesus demanded justice from those who profited off the indebtedness of Jerusalem’s poor and marginalized. He disrupted and threw out the businesses of the powerful aristocracy. And within a week of these actions, he was dead.

Jesus chose not only to speak truth to the powerful in his society, he followed those words with actions. His words and actions, which at the heart carried values of love and joy were troublesome and terrifying for the establishment. The response to his actions were costly to Jesus. At the same time they also pointed the way to liberation. They confronted the structures of an oppressive regime while enacting an image of freedom.

I want to finish my reflections with a few suggestions and a poem.

What does it mean for us to demand justice here today? What does it look like for us to love our neighbours well in a way that might make the powerful fearful?

Three straightforward demands that I’d encourage you to think about are:

  • We demand that the City Of Toronto stop closing Respite Centres and the hundreds of mats to sleep on. This month alone the city is closing 400 spaces. That’s 40% of all Respite spaces.
  • We demand 2000 new shelter beds in 2019
  • We demand the City build rent-geared-to-income housing on city property

This is a poem I wrote a couple years ago.

Affordable “Homes” in the Valley

In our City:
Which is fair and polite.
Where we excel at building half million dollar boxes in the sky.
Where we take pride in our partnerships and think we are connected and modern.

In our City:
Which is fair and polite.
My neighbour is pulled by her hair across the threshold.
Indigenous and Black bodies are regularly beaten by armed men dressed in blue. Men who are well paid to keep the status quo.
A status where our neighbours navigate the streets with shopping carts and sleep under the stars.

In the valley:
My neighbours build affordable homes for their loved ones and themselves.
My neighbour reduces and recycles.
While the looters on Bay Street grab and take all they can hoard.

In the valley:
A revolutionary artist creates speculative fiction.
A graveyard to the dragons of finance.
And the lions of industry.
A quiet resting place for vandals.

In the valley:
A secret an artist builds cairns to remember their friends who have passed on.
Friends who found ways to cut holes through cold bureaucracy and make paths amidst forests of hate.
May my neighbours friends know much peace and joy further down the river.
Where the water flows wide and the deep fades to sky. May they know justice.
May that justice not be too harsh for me and my box in the sky.

Highlights from our 2019 Walk: The Seven Sorrows of Mary

2019 First Station – the Rev’d Leigh Kern, Co-ordinator of Indigenous Ministries and Reconciliation Animator, Anglican Diocese of Toronto
Joined by Laverne Malcolm, Stevie Roberts, and Zachary Grant

Today is the day we enter into the suffering of Jesus Christ- who was Emmanuel, God with us who entered into our sufferings and sorrows. He died a death like so many prophets of love, an enemy of the state. Yet he was also the beloved child of Mary his mother.

2019 Mary
First Station: Seven Sorrows of Mary

The icon of the sorrowful mother of compassion is an ancient and powerful tradition, where people contemplate the seven sorrows of mother Mary, and her solidarity with all parents, people, and families from powers that attack the bonds of love from the community. 

Today we join in this ancient tradition, as our sorrows connect us to the heart strings of the sorrowful mother, as we stand with her as she grieves the execution of her child, we weep with her, and all parents and community members whose hearts are pierced with sorrow. 

We weep together, and our hearts bleed with her.

Following each sorrow, please join us in saying As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

1. The first sorrow to pierce the Mother of God was her giving birth in a barn. Pregnant Mary was forced to walk miles, and when the pangs of birth overtook her, no one would give her shelter. She had to give birth in the dirt of a stable, with no one coming to her aid.

Your suffering, O sorrowful mother is known by all who give birth in back alleys, homelessness, and poverty, without the loving and supportive hands of wise elders, friends, family, midwives, and knowledge keepers. For all who have their newborns taken against their will, for who’s experience of pregnancy and birth is traumatic. 

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

2. The second sorrow of Mary is the flight to Egypt, immediately after Jesus’ birth, the king was threatened by the birth of Jesus, and sent out a rule to kill all recently born babies. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus had to flee as refugees and leave their home. 

Your fear, O Mother of tears, is known by all who have had to flee with children from war, violence, and chaos, we hold before your compassionate heart all parents and families who must make scary journeys, for all LGBTQ youth and youth who flee unsafe homes, for all children detained at borders, for all refugee parents who grieve children injured or killed on the flight from terror…

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

2019 Mary walks

3. The third sorrow of Mary is the loss of Jesus, when he went missing on their trip to Jerusalem. 

Mary’s trembling, is felt by all who have had their children taken from their loving arms by Children’s Aid Society, RCMP, and Residential School officials. We lift before your loving arms the anxiety and fear of all whose loved ones are missing…

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

4. The fourth sorrow of Mary is Jesus’ arrest.

The horror of having your child incarcerated O Mother of God, is known across this land, as beloved people are policed and stolen from community and held in jails, prisons, foster care, and detention centres. We grieve the torture of human beings by their confinement, removal from community, and forced isolation in incarceration. Our hearts breaks for all the young parents who are in prison and only meet their newborn children over Skype calls at Toronto South Detention Centre, our hearts break for all parents separated from their children serving sentences, and all communities splintered by the police and prison state…

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

5. The fifth sorrow of Mary is seeing her son die on the cross. 

She stands by his side, she will not look away, her tears fall in the earth as her son’s blood flows. She witnesses the crowds mock her son, plus the soldiers laugh and torture him.

Her agony is the agony of all who witness their loved ones suffer at the hands of the powerful, for all who are abused, for all who are tortured and executed, for all whose loved ones have been murdered.

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land. 

6. The sixth sorrow of Mary is taking Jesus off the cross, receiving the dead body of her son into her arms.

We hear her cries as she bitterly wails, holding his cold, broken body. 

We pray for all who have had this dreadful experience, for all who have found loved ones died by suicide, for all who have held their loved ones, taken too soon… for all who live with the trauma of death…

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

7. The seventh sorrow of Mary is the burial of her son.

We pray for all who stand over the grave of one’s stolen from our circles of love and relationship. For the children who died at Residential Schools, whose bodies lay in unmarked graves, for all who have died in the overdose crisis, for all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people, for the families who search for their loved ones who they never got to bury, for all who mourn…

As your tears fall from heaven, and your heart of compassion is pierced, may justice reign in this land.

(close with the travelling song)

Join the 2019 Good Friday Walk for Justice in Toronto

2019 Theme: For the Sake of the World: 40 years of hopeful persistence

April 19, 2019  2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The walk begins and ends at the Church of the Holy Trinity and the crowd moves as a procession to stations around the city within walking distance, each set with a different aspect of the theme.  At the end of the walk, back at the church there is a short reflection followed by a light meal of soup and bread.

Directions to Holy Trinity

Good Friday Walk for Justice Facebook Event 

2019 Poster jpeg 

2019 PDF Poster with details

Join the 2017 Good Friday Walk for Justice

2017 Theme: Breaking Barriers

April 14, 2017  2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The walk begins and ends at the Church of the Holy Trinity and the crowd moves as a procession to stations around the city within walking distance, each set with a different aspect of the theme.  At the end of the walk, back at the church there is a short reflection followed by a light meal of soup and bread.

Link to Google map

Good Friday Walk for Justice Facebook Event 

GFWcolourfianl
Download the 2017 Poster (colour PDF)
Download the 2017 Poster (black and white PDF)

We Walk With Faith and Passion — Good Friday Hymn

Each year Rev. Brian McIntosh writes a new verse to the hymn based on the Passion Chorale. This year the 3rd verse was added for the theme of water.

We Walk with Faith and Passion 2016
(available as a PDF below)

We walk with faith and passion upon our city’s streets
to protest pain’s new fashion as death’s refrain repeats
the Friday cross of Jesus,
a victim of the pow’rs
of war and wealth and madness, ‘til justice, life is ours.

In public paths and places, as women, children, men,
we see in blood-stained faces the crossed-up Christ again.
The corp’rate sin of many,
of race and class and creed, denies new life to any |who are betrayed by greed.

In blood-filled, toxic water, pollution, pipelines, drought,
there’s Pilate’s, empire’s laughter
as hands are washed of doubt.
We waste the flowing fountain of Earth’s safe watersheds;
by failing their protection we’ll thirst in desert beds.

While waging peace and freedom we name the crucified,
for reconciliation is why the rabbi died.
Our journey is for healing
of social sins and fears,
our songs and prayers revealing the promised end of tears.

Words: Brian McIntosh Music: Passion Chorale

Good Friday Walk Hymn (Download a PDF version, 1 page)