TEN YEARS STRONG!
Over the last ten years, the Southridge Shelter has had a major impact in the fight against poverty and homelessness across Niagara. Here are some milestones that are worth celebrating.
Our dedicated staff and volunteers help to create nutritious and delicious meals 3 times daily.
When people need emergency support and a safe place to sleep The Shelter is here to support them.
Our volunteers serve the community with dignity, excellence, and relational support.
WHO WE SERVE
SOUTHRIDGE SHELTER IN THE MEDIA
TV COGECO: The Source
The shelter at Southridge Community Church celebrated a milestone recently. This is the story of the 10 year anniversary celebration.
Watch Marty Mako for more on this story.
Niagara This Week
‘Unexpected but life-changing’ friendships forged at emergency shelter [read more]
Photo by: Paul Forsyth, Staff Photographer, Niagara This Week
A SHELTER LIKE NO OTHER
Ten years, 250,000 meals, and 104,00 bed nights provided to thousands of people in a situation of homelessness. It’s been Niagara’s best-kept secret for a decade and it all began with what some might call a divine coincidence.
More than a decade ago, the homeless population in St. Catharines, frustrated by the lack of services, staged a sleep-in protest at Montebello Park. Though Mayor Tim Rigby quickly offered the former Merriton Town Hall as a temporary residence, he explains, “We knew it was only a temporary solution.” Brian Hutchings, then Commissioner of Community Services for the Niagara Region, joined forces with Tim and the mayors of other Niagara cities and towns, to find a more permanent solution for homelessness in the region.
As this challenge was unfolding, so was another – in the hearts of the congregants of Southridge Community Church. Says Lead Pastor Jeff Lockyer, “Back then we were haunted by a question: If our church disappeared would anyone even notice?”
Jeff and Southridge member Tim Arnold felt faith should have the power to make a difference. What they didn’t know was that the crisis in Montebello Park would one day prove to be the catalyst.
“Faith should be more than just going somewhere on Sunday,” says Tim. “We wanted to live out what we believe.”
Sensing that change was coming, but not sure what it would be, the congregation moved operations from their original small church in Lincoln to the former Lady Spencer Churchill school location on Glenridge Avenue.
Says Jeff, “We changed locations to help facilitate a different kind of life.”
The building was purchased in the spring of 2003, their first service was held the following December and the doors opened officially in 2004.
“We walked around the building for a while, knowing that we now had the space we needed to live out our faith differently. But we needed direction and so we started with an era of partnership,” says Jeff. “We first wanted to find out what other people were doing and help them. Then we could determine if there was a gap we could uniquely fill.”
Says Brian Hutchings, “Everyone else came to the Region asking for money for their programs but Southridge was different. They’d meet with me at Cat’s Caboose, talk about what they were doing and ask for advice. There was no punchline – no asking for money. They just wanted to know what they could do for the community.”
One of their first steps of partnership was getting involved with the Out of the Cold program that serves the homeless of Niagara through the months of November through March, hosting every Sunday night. One year later came the Montebello Park demonstration – and a decision that would change Southridge forever.
“As the government realized,” said Jeff, “that Southridge was the most conducive location to host a large-scale, full-time Out of the Cold program, we were realizing www.southridgeshelter.ca ￼
￼www.southridgeshelter.ca ￼￼that sheltering the homeless was providing us a great opportunity for unlikely but incredibly relationships to form. So we decided to give it a shot.” Within a week of that decision, close to 60 homeless people moved into the former youth wing of the building, which was transformed into the Southridge Shelter.
“We really didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” laughs Tim. “But we had the space and the desire to make a difference, so we jumped in.” Though operating a 24/7 shelter was something Tim had never done, he made the life-changing decision to sell his business and begin working full-time at Southridge. The rest of the congregation also got on board with surprising speed, seeing the program as a different way to exercise their faith.
“It’s a good thing they did,” Jeff smiles, “because we’d just invested $3 million on a new venue to make that possible!”
The congregation might have anticipated the hard work necessary to house and feed such a large group of people on an every-night basis, but they could never have predicted the life-changing friendships that would result.
“What we’ve found,” says Tim, “is that if folks in crisis come through the doors and get their immediate needs met, then, during the 30-60 days they’re with us, they make friends. Often this results in a particular friendship with someone who will walk with them through the long road of healing and recovery. We’ve discovered that these friendships are what makes all the difference.”
Those friends are Southridge people – some, members of the congregation who come for services on Sunday and put their faith to work the rest of the week, others, simply volunteers who want to lend a hand.
The success of Southridge is such that the church has expanded – not only in terms of its membership but also its community programs. Today, as they celebrate the shelter’s tenth anniversary, Southridge is also operating friendship- based programs for Caribbean farm workers across west Niagara, and for children in Welland through a partnership with Rose City Kids. These initiatives – known as their ‘Anchor Causes’ – represent a local outreach focus that has become the backbone of the way of life for each of the three Southridge locations.
Says Jeff, “The Church across North America seems to be struggling these days. It’s offering a faith experience that is often reduced to just sitting and listening to sermons. But it feels like a lot of people aren’t satisfied with that any more. If you believe in a vibrant, transformative faith, you can’t just talk about it.”
“Southridge has been building other opportunities through their Anchor-Causes – a way of engaging people’s faith that is more captivating, more engaging and more intriguing.
We believe that’s what the people of Niagara are hungering for, so we’re trying to offer a new front door to our church, to let people explore and engage in Christianity in a more active, experiential way.”
Says Tim, “If you want to come to our services on Sundays, that’s great. If not, that’s fine too. Just join us in making a difference!” Southridge has no expectations in that way – attending a service is not a prerequisite for getting involved.
Their only expectation to serving is appreciating the transformative power of the friendships with those that you serve. Tim says with a smile, “Here at Southridge, it’s these unlikely friendships that make all the difference.”
Liz Fleming – March 23, 2015
Liz Fleming is the editor-in-chief of the Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Magazine and a regular contributor to The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun.
More important than the numbers and statistics is the countless number of individual lives that have been transformed through the power of relationship. We’ve learned that FRIENDSHIP MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.