Deacon Robert Kinghorn Register file photo

18 candles light the Church on the Street

  • May 23, 2024

Anniversaries are for reminiscing, and “The Church on the Street” reached its 18th anniversary this month. 

The most notable change in these years is that the drugs being used now are lethal. As a friend who is now clean put it, “I got clean because I was scared of the synthetic drugs. The heroin I once used would kill eventually, but the synthetic drugs are much more lethal, and they usually end in death.” 

I was walking into the heart of the drug area when I was surprised to see a man I had not seen for about two years. He used to stand with a snake around his neck, but he said the snake was at home this evening. 

“I’m still with my wife,” he said, “and I still have the best weed around if you want some.” 

I declined his kind offer, and instead asked him how he is doing since the death of his mother a couple of years ago. 

“I still miss her,” he said, “and it seems like only yesterday that I was riding with her on the back of her motorized wheelchair.” 

As I left him, I saw a man sitting on the sidewalk, looking a little worse for wear. I introduced myself and he said, “My name is Jehovah, my mother chose the name for me. Thanks for what you have chosen to do, you are much needed in this area.” 

With that, another man called over, “Hey Robert, I’ve seen you around here for many years. Could you look out for a girl with a dog, she’s my daughter and I am worried about her.” 

Much as things change, some things never change downtown, and four police cars raced past us followed by an ambulance and a fire truck, all with their sirens blaring and disappearing into the dark of the night. Another thing that does not change are the girls who hang around the streets looking for “dates”. When I started out, there were specific areas that they had commandeered. They were well dressed and were always open to conversation. However, almost all of these have gone inside now to the safer confines of hotel rooms and apartments, leaving mostly the drug-dependent ones on the streets. 

Perhaps it was because their social security cheques had run out, but I counted seven of the ladies who asked me if I wanted a “date”. Each one was already well into their drugs, which bolstered their aggression and numbed the pain of what they were attempting. My standard answer now to each is the same, “My wife would not like it” whereupon they stare at my clerical collar with a look of confusion, and usually say something like, 

“Sorry, Father.” 

My final route for the evening took me over to see if “Paula” was on the streets. She is the prostitute who ignored me for about a year but over the past six months we have spoken each week, and she is slowly opening up. She still gives little away about her life and why she came to Toronto from Uganda, but when she saw me, for the first time ever she crossed the road and gave me a hug. My concern is still that she may be on the streets against her will, but that will take patience to find out. 

On the way home, I stopped as I always do each week to pray at the doorway where my friend “Chilli” died of an overdose two months ago. Her spiritual writing on the walls had long since been washed away. It was once again just a doorway. I took solace that for the six months I had known her, each week she had felt loved unconditionally. 

The evening also brought with it the joy of ministry. As I walked the route that I had carved out many years before, I thought of two ladies who had been deep into drugs for many of the years I had known them. Each has a child now, growing up in a secure and loving household. By coincidence I had received a message from each of them in the previous month, one from Jamaica and one from Newfoundland, saying that each has met a man, and after a short engagement will be married in the summer. 

Looking back over these 18 years, there have been joys and sorrows. Many close friends have died, but I thought to myself, “I am so fortunate, I could not have chosen any better ministry than this.” 

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.