In the spirit of peace, fellowship and understanding members of the Indigenous and business community partnered with police officers to host a lunch and give away clothing at a downtown church recently.
The partnership comes out of the Walkabout program, which pairs Toronto Police officers with Indigenous elders to walk the downtown core to connect with Indigenous people living or panhandling on the streets with social services.
Concerned about the growing homeless population in the city, the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area (BIA) reached out to Constable Mike Jeffrey about four years ago, asking for advice and help. The 51 Division officer contacted Frances Sanderson of Nishawbe Homes who put him in contact with elder Andrew Wesley.
The partnership also includes Anishnawbe Health Toronto, the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre and the Downtown Yonge BIA that collaborated on October 31 to host an Indigenous Feast at the Church of the Holy Trinity.
“We are doing this to for those living on the street and are less fortunate,” said BIA chief operating officer & executive director Mark Garner. “There is a specific need in our community that’s not getting addressed and this is one of the perennial churches that have been supportive of numerous needs in the community as well as those that are social reality and street-based issues.”
Kira Vallen, who identifies as third gender for the Saugeen First Nations, said the walkabout is an opportunity for the homeless and marginalized community to connect with police in a positive way.
“When we do that, they are more comfortable talking to us,” said Vallen. “In many cases, they might not approach a police officer because of fear or a negative past experience. I was once an addict and homeless. I have been there, so I can communicate with them. The walkabout makes it much easier to bridge that gap between the police, the business community and the community at large.”
Vallen and Allan Henderson Jr. held a blessing and welcome song ceremony before the meal of moose stew and bannock was served.
Peer outreach worker Michael Cheena of the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre has been doing the walkabout since 2016.
“When elder Andrew Wesley asked me to be involved, I didn’t hesitate,” he said. “We do it once a month and it’s such a privilege to collaborate with the police and our homeless community.”
Warren Boucher, a talented artist who sells his wares along Yonge St., has supported the Walkabout since meeting Jeffrey two years ago.
“We met at an Aboriginal residence where I was smoking marijuana and the executive officer summoned the police to come and evict me,” recalled Boucher. “Constable Jeffrey showed up, we talked and have had an excellent relationship since then. I enjoy doing the walk beside the police and helping my community.”
52 and 14 Divisions recently embraced the Walkabout program.
The Church of the Holy Trinity was built in 1847 with a 5,000-pound gift.
“We have in our DNA a connection to people who are poor and homeless,” said incumbent priest Sherman Hasselgrave. “We are open for a few hours during the week so that people can come in to rest, get a coffee or something to eat that’s provided by partners we work with. We also provide an early morning breakfast on Sunday before our worship service starts.”
The church is open during the week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.