It was March 2012. I was sitting in a very comfortable office at the CIBC on the corner of Manning and Hospital Streets negotiating a mortgage for a new home as we relocated to Fort McMurray. The office looked south to a short laneway just past the entrance to the banks parking lot. As I looked out the office window, with winter still clearly hanging on, a guy was wrapped up in a tattered sleeping bag, his toque pulled over his head, his body pressed against a fence. It was mid morning, sunny, with a typical March temperature of around -10.
Here I was securing the finances to enable me to live in a warm spacious typical Fort McMurray home. The contrast between what I was doing and the homeless guy in the laneway couldn’t have been greater.
As I looked out that window, I wondered about the guy’s story. Somewhere he was dealt a bad hand in life. Maybe addictions from a rough childhood, maybe mental illness, maybe both have debilitated him. And then homeless in Fort McMurray in winter? It gets harsh here. Why stay in Fort McMurray?
When the evacuation happened with the wildfire, I assumed most of our homeless would simply stay where they were relocated. There are a lot more resources elsewhere and in some cases, warmer winters. But no, so many came back. Fort McMurray is home, even when it’s -40. There’s something powerful about the place you call home, even if your home is on the streets.
I’m a follower of Jesus. I take his words seriously. And one of the startling words he gave to his followers was essentially, “Whatever we do for the homeless, it’s like we’re doing it directly for Jesus.” Don’t judge. Don’t try to figure what they could have done differently. Just show tangible love. That’s Jesus’ call to us.
Eleven years ago the Center of Hope began its work in downtown Fort McMurray, serving the needs of the homeless and marginalized in our city. They take seriously the words of Jesus to care for those who aren’t able to care for themselves. They have been stellar in their care and support of the homeless.
Just after posting this article, I will be driving a support truck, tag teaming with Hans Zundel on his Quad as part of a group seeking to raise funds and awareness for the Centre of Hope through Ride For Hope. We are making our way to Hay River in the Northwest Territories, travelling the winter roads. The idea is to take our love for quading and use it as a way to identify with living out in the middle of the winter cold.
Maybe you like me are struck by the plight of the homeless in our city, even more so in winter. Would you be willing to support Hans, myself and the rest of us as we do the “Ride For Hope”? Go to the Centre of Hope Web page, http://fmcentreofhope.com/, click on “Donate Now” and just say it’s for “Ride For Hope.” Let’s rally and help those who really can’t help themselves.
This post also appeared in Fort McMurray Today.