London, Ont., church project sees ‘95%’ of homeless men housed despite COVID-19

Jaclyn Carbone/980 CFPL

An Ontario church community says the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop them from seeing great results in their program aimed to help the homeless.

Beth Emmanuel Church, a chapel in London’s SoHo neighbourhood, introduced a program in 2019 and took it one step further this year.

The Urban Haven Project provided shelter as well an opportunity to connect homeless men with services such as education, finding work, and if needed, addiction counseling.

READ MORE: London church opens doors with beds for the homeless

“The program was almost to a finish when the COVID-19 [pandemic] hit… I think we were weeks from finishing,” said Pastor Dan Morand, who has led the most recent effort to help the homeless.
“Everything was on track, so we were really excited at the results of [this] program.”
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Coronavirus outbreak: A timeline of how COVID-19 spread around world
Coronavirus outbreak: A timeline of how COVID-19 spread around world

The pastor says the program had a rocky start in January.

There were issues with the city’s bylaw office over tents that were set-up on the church’s property for the homeless.

Morand said finding an insurance company was difficult too.

The program, with 22 selected men enrolled was forced to start a week late.

READ MORE: ‘I’m not apologizing to anybody:’ London pastor says homeless shelter tents staying up

“We were very specific on the kind of guy we wanted, and that was somebody who was looking for housing, work, [and] something to help their addiction issue.”
Two facilities in Kingston now open to help homeless during COVID-19 pandemic
Two facilities in Kingston now open to help homeless during COVID-19 pandemic

The pastor said on the Craig Needles Show Friday morning the past few months went “really, really well.”

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He said: “95 per cent of the men were housed, so they all left the program either going into their own place, [and] some were even reunited with family, which is really exciting.”
“There were only two [men] who left on their own and went back to the streets.”

According to Morand, a third of the men found work, either part-time for full-time. A once-electrician went back to work in the industry, and a carpenter did too.

READ MORE: Finding a job during a pandemic is not easy, but still possible

But the pastor says the “big shocker” was the story of a past-nurse.

He says the man experienced “… a series of events that happened in his life, [and] ran into some addiction problems.”
“We found him, [and] through those few weeks with us, he ended up landing a supervisor job in a long-term care home, and ended up moving into his own place.”

“I don’t know the end of the story, but I believe there was a [reunion] with his wife and child.”

READ MORE: Another death, 14 new cases of COVID-19 in London-Middlesex as Easter Sunday approaches

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Due to COVID-19, the last few weeks of the program didn’t turn out the way Morand imagined at the beginning.

“In the last weeks… we actually isolated everybody… they were fine with that. We made sure they were entertained and had food.”

“We’re no different than anybody else. We had to rethink things on the fly and do things differently,” explained the pastor.

Other than the program, the church also provides food for community members in need, but they have had to take a pause due to the virus.

READ MORE: Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says end of COVID-19 ‘first wave’ likely to come in the summer

Morand says they hope to be able to provide food again in May.

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“But we can see ourselves doing more outreach than food,” he said.

“People are coming to get a meal, and they’re going right away, but nobody’s taking the time to check in with them and talk with them… We see that as maybe our niche.”

In the meantime, the pastor says he and his team have a list of people they call every day to check up on their well-being.

Morand is also making plans to turn the Urban Haven Project into a permanent one.