Kevan Griffith

Pandemic or not, St. Peter’s parish is there for those in need

  • January 21, 2022

Quite simply, pandemic restrictions or not, St. Peter’s Church in Nanaimo, B.C., will not shirk its duty to look out for the needy in society.

“Christ is in the poor,” said pastor Fr. Harrison Ayre. “Regardless of pandemic or not, this needs to happen.”

It’s the fourth winter an emergency shelter has housed the vulnerable in the basement of St. Peter’s.

“It has really just been living out the Gospel,” said Ayre. “If we can and we have the ability and capacity and it’s not going to have too much of a detrimental effect on the church, then I think it’s worth doing. Everyone needs a place to sleep.” 

A partnership between Nanaimo Family Life Association (NFLA) and John Howard Society, the night shelter has been operating in the church hall daily from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. since late November and will run through the end of March. Logistical challenges due to the pandemic threatened to throw a wrench in the program, but NFLA staff and parishioners have worked to ensure the shelter’s safe execution at time when the homeless community in the region need it most.

The shelter currently services 28 guests who sleep on cots spread out six feet apart due to COVID-19. When they arrive they are served soup, sandwiches, coffee and tea and breakfast in the morning.

Servicing a population where many struggle with addiction and mental health issues has its special challenges, admits program coordinator Kevan Griffith. But as long as they can ensure regular parish operation is supported and the neighbouring community stays safe, everyone wins.

With his caring but no-nonsense approach, Griffith runs a tight ship. For over a decade he has worked in shelters in the region where he’s built a special bond with the homeless. A recovering alcoholic himself, he has been able to see a number of former addicts find the road to recovery.

The John Howard Society, which funds the initiative through B.C. Housing, has always leaned on the faith community to provide spaces for emergency shelters. The moral sensibility held by the church that the poor need a place to sleep has made for a natural partnership in the initiative, says John Horn, executive director of the organization. The large space at St. Peter’s, which is located near the downtown core in close proximity to other social services, has made it ideal. 

Horn says the respect residents in the area have for the work of the church has gone a long way in maintaining support and positive relations with the community.

“The neighbourhood relationships between the church and the community around it are quite strong over the years,” said Horn. “That has really put us in good stead because it isn’t problem-free to run a shelter. Things do happen, and what saves you from getting beat up by everybody in the neighbourhood is that they truly believe that the church is a force for positive good and in the community.”

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