From left, Chimene Boyce, Tracey FErguson, CWL Toronto president Ann D'Souza and Deacon Robert Kinghorn. Photo by Jacklyn Gilmor

Catholic Women's League forms a relationship with the homeless

By  Jacklyn Gilmor, Catholic Register Special
  • May 8, 2018

Chimene Boyce ran away from home at 15 and spent years living on the streets. She has some simple advice for people wanting to help the homeless.

“Go to the people and ask what they need,” she told the Toronto Diocesan Catholic Women’s League convention May 4.

It is advice the CWL is taking to heart.

“Very often, people just pass by and don’t look at homeless people,” said Ann D’Souza, the Toronto diocesan president. “I feel like sometimes people want to give, but they don’t know where to start. So with this awareness, now the ladies look them in the eye and say to the person, ‘hello, what’s your name?’ ”

The CWL has long been collecting and donating food to shelters, but this year they’re doing something different. At a provincial convention in July, the women will be bringing Tim Hortons gift cards to donate to the poor. 

D’Souza said that a person will feel good about buying their own food or coffee instead of relying on handouts. “You and I don’t know what’s happening in his life, why he’s on the street,” she said. “Just give with your heart.”

The theme of the Toronto council’s two-day convention was “Inspired by the Spirit, women respond to God’s call.” 

At a panel session, speakers emphasized the importance of forming relationships with homeless people. 

“When people are on the street… they want somebody to look them in the eye and recognize that they are persons, they’re not just a number or some kind of stranger,” said Fr. Pat O’Dea, a spiritual advisor for the Toronto archdiocese. “They have a great need to have their dignity recognized. They haven’t lost that. They’re struggling, but they’re still people.”

Deacon Robert Kinghorn runs an outreach mission on the streets of downtown Toronto. He said that those who want to help should get to know the people in need. 

“It’s not just putting your hand in your pocket and giving money to a shelter, but listening to the stories,” he said. “It’s about face-to-face relationships. This is what Jesus is all about. He was a man of the city who went out to meet people.”

Kinghorn regularly meets with people who live on the streets. He met Boyce 11 years ago. From being on the street to becoming a keynote speaker at the convention, her life is completely different.

Boyce was working as a prostitute when she met Kinghorn. They started talking and she told him how she drew comfort from Psalm 13, which is a prayer to God for the troubled. Boyce decided to go into rehabilitation for her drug addiction. She has been clean for more than a year and studies at Centennial College in Toronto. 

“There is hope for anybody,” she said. 

Boyce also pointed out the need for affordable housing in Toronto. While staying in a shelter with her infant son, she said it was hard to see a better future. She was told the waiting list for housing was 12 years. Fortunately, she was able to find a place in February, where she says it’s a joy to fold her clothes or take a shower.

In 2017, there were 92,452 people overall who were on the waiting list for subsidized housing, according to a City of Toronto report.

There are signs of change, however. The Canadian government recently adopted a $40 billion National Housing Strategy with a goal to house 530,000 people and cut the chronic homeless population in half over the next decade. 

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