Symposium shows the homeless reality

  • December 18, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Catholic students from across Toronto sat in silence as John Bransfield and Joey Ivory, a young engaged couple, described their tragic struggle with homelessness.

The couple was asked to speak at the annual Social Justice Symposium, hosted by Brebeuf College School on Dec. 11, at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College campus.

“Have an open ear to the homeless, it’s not always their choice,” said Bransfield, speaking strongly from experience and reflecting the theme of the event, “Awareness of Unfairness: Helping the Homeless.”

The symposium’s goal is to empower youth to take action and fight injustice through a Catholic lens, with this year’s focus being homelessness.

Bransfield found himself on the streets after an unexpected injury left him unable to work. Ivory, whom he met in a shelter, had nowhere else to go once her parents died when she was 16. The couple live off of a monthly welfare cheque and one-dollar meals provided by St. Francis’ Table, a Franciscan organization that offers shelter and food for the homeless of Toronto.

The two are but a small example of the homeless and impoverished population of Toronto.

“I wanted students to see that there are ways they can get involved in making a more just society,” said Michael Da Costa, the event organizer and a teacher at Brebeuf. “Catholic education is a gift to our society and we need to channel students’ energy and desire to do good. Hopefully the symposium is one way of doing that.”

Throughout the day, after attending Mass, the group of 250 students from 21 Catholic schools across Toronto listened to speakers create an image of homelessness. Accompanying Bransfield and Ivory, Br. John Frampton of St. Francis’ Table shared some of his own personal journey of working with the homeless.

“We are all poor from time to time,” said Frampton, encouraging the youth in attendance to empathize with the situations of the misfortunate.

Deacon Ron Jenkins introduced Chalice, a Catholic sponsorship program whose mission is to care for the poor in the Third World. Jenkins denied any excuse for inaction, as he knew that if nothing else, any person of any age could pray for those less fortunate.

Concluding the speakers’ portion of the day, Toronto City Councillor Joe Mihevc tried to raise awareness of the modern-day “War on the Poor.” Using historical and political data on homelessness from the past decade, Mihevc demonstrated that society has a hostile disposition towards the poor, viewing them as lazy and undetermined rather than simply misfortunate.

The latter portion of the day was composed of four different workshops, which further addressed the issue of homelessness and stressed the importance of youth involvement in all areas of social justice.

“The symposium showed me that there are ways we can help, no matter how young we are,” said Jessica Mili, a Grade 12 Bishop Allen student. “You don’t have to travel around the world to make a difference; there are people here, sharing the city with us, who are in need.”

Mili, along with the other students present, began her own mission to help the homeless simply by attending, as all of the event’s proceeds went to charitable groups working to promote social justice.

(Rinaldi, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College in Toronto.)

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