Toronto Update #3: Simulated Homelessness

Today started off by watching a movie named “Altars in the Streets,” which was produced by the Salvation Army to spread knowledge about the realities of growing up as a child in the city.  “Altars in the Streets” followed two specific children (and used their real stories) and the harsh realities they endured, and one of the stories ended with the girl’s death at age 14. We then drive to Salvation Army 614 to pick up trash in Regent Park (both of which I wrote about yesterday).  Before we left,  Bosco explained that our team was representing Salvation Army 614 and that we were working towards giving them a good name among those who live in Regent Park so that those children and families who could greatly benefit from S.A.’s ministry would grow increasingly open to visiting.

Getting ready to clean up in Regent Park. I think Van felt like Michael Jackson wearing those white gloves.

While cleaning up in Regent Park we came across a number of murals which had been painted on the brick walls of some buildings.  There were painted to be an inspiration to the children growing up there, motivating them to believe that they really can make something out of themselves rather than settling for the low expectations and lifestyle expected from someone who grew up calling Regent Park home.

We also brought some balls, a frisbee, and some sidewalk chalk with us in hopes that there would be some kids for us to play with and get to know.  When we got to the playground area we didn’t see anyone, so a few of us started to draw with sidewalk chalk while some of the guys played Four-Square hoping to draw some kids outside to play with them.  No guys came out to play Four-Square, but a boy and a girl did come out and start drawing with the sidewalk chalk.  Elsa and Scott especially hit it off with these kids and had a great time playing with them (from my perspective, I don’t know who was having more fun, Scott & Elsa or the kids!  It was really great to watch).  There was also a large structure that looked like a colorful swing-set without swings, but it turned out to be a water-sprayer for people to enjoy and be able to cool down on really hot days, so some of our team and the kids started chasing each other around… it was really fun to watch!

A Mural in Regent Park
Playing and running around in Regent Park (Scott was just taking a break)

We returned to our tutoring partnerships with Iskaashiga Ministries after eating lunch at a really good Greek restaurant.  These tutoring relationships are really exciting to us, please keep praying for us to grow increasingly confident and comfortable in our roles as teachers.

Tonight we were led through a “Simulated Homelessness” experience where we were instructed to put ourselves in the shoes of a 13 year old homeless boy/girl in Toronto.  Our guide told us his own personal story of how he and his mom experienced very difficult times after she left his biological father due to domestic abuse.  She was later remarried to a man (a lawyer and youth-pastor) who sexually abused him while his mother took college classes at night.  When he finally spoke up and told his mom she yelled at him and hit him (for the first and only time) and told him that he had to choose between keeping his mouth shut and leaving, because there’s no way she was going back to the life she had before being married to this man. So he packed up his things and found a children’s shelter, but there he was also sexually abused by the other boys because he was younger and smaller than the rest of them.  Again, he packed up what he had and escaped, this time he headed to Toronto with the money he had managed to save up.  He suddenly found himself in Toronto as a 13 year old boy who had been abandoned by his mother, sexually abused by his step-father and by other boys, called a liar by every adult he reached out to for help, and now found himself with only $2.00 in a strange and new city which he hoped would be full of promise and new beginnings.

Sadly, this is not an entirely uncommon story.  Most of us hear stories like this and think about movies or books, but this is real life for many many children in cities all across the world (including the US and Canada!).  It’s much easier and more comfortable to imagine that this isn’t happening, but research has shown that nearly 80% of homeless teenagers end up in child-prostitution by the end of only ONE WEEK on the streets.  Almost all of these teens are forced into it by being beaten within inches of death and other severe threats, and many are captured and sold through the human trafficking industry (which is the largest money-making industry in the world, even though we don’t like to recognize that this actually happens!).  If a homeless teenager is caught by the police or attempts to enter a homeless shelter, he/she is then sent immediately back to the last children’s shelter they were at before they left.  This means that many of these teenagers end up hiding in places where they aren’t seen, because they don’t want to be caught and sent back to the places where they are trying to escape from.

In our “Simulated Homelessness” experience we were given only $2.00 to find food for dinner with.  We were broken into groups of 8-10 people for safety’s sake (and each group had a CSM Staff with them as a guide).  We were told to put ourselves in this 13 year old’s shoes and to try not to talk with each other since we’re supposed to be a young teen who just arrived in Toronto all by himself with only $2.  We had to find answers to five key questions:

  1. What will I eat? (what can I afford that’s healthy for me, what places will even serve me)
  2. How will I get money? (panhandling, stealing, prostitution)
  3. Where will I find shelter? (safe, clean, private)
  4. What about my hygiene? (bathroom, washing my hands, keeping clean, etc.)
  5. Where will I find entertainment to keep from going crazy? (especially as a 13 year old boy or girl)

This was a difficult exercise, especially when we consider the emotional toll it took on us even though we were only simulating this life and knew that we would return to safe shelter.  The reality is, we cannot radically change the world in one fell swoop.  Grand designs and elaborate plans sound wonderful, but radical change starts where we are today and by impacting the lives of those around us now.

One team member made the observation last night that even though there may not be many people who are actually homeless in our suburban towns, those very towns are where homeless people are grown.  When someone chooses to leave home, of course they will go to a city rather than staying where it will be nearly impossible for them to live on the street.  So even though we don’t see homelessness in Norfolk or Franklin or wherever, that is where homelessness begins: in the homes where there’s abuse and alcoholism and drug addictions.  How can you begin to recognize the hidden hurts the people around you are carrying around inside of them?

Prayer Requests:

  • We are all getting very very tired.  We have had a few late nights in a row and some very busy days!  Yesterday and today are the busiest days scheduled for us, so the rest of the week shouldn’t be quite so draining, but all these challenging experiences paired up with being physically tired can be very difficult.  Pray for us to be refreshed and to sleep well (and to nap well too, when we get the chance!).
  • This can sometimes be the point in the missions trip when conflicts can happen (tired people, who are overwhelmed by what they’re experiencing, and who are constantly with each other tend to sometimes do that.)  Please pray for patience, humility, and an “Others First” mentality.
  • Pray for God to rip down the human trafficking and child prostitution industries, both here in Toronto and around the globe.  Toronto has recently overtaken Thailand as the largest destination for those who want to kidnap children for the sex-trade due to the high influx of immigrants and because of Toronto’s appeal to young children who come all on their own. Pray that not only would the captors be brought to justice, but that those feeding the industry by procuring the “services” would be brought to justice as well.

5 thoughts on “Toronto Update #3: Simulated Homelessness

  1. Alyson McRell August 4, 2010 / 10:15 am

    I absolutely love your updates so I can know what my hubby & brother have been up to. It’s so sad the lives that some of these people live. If only they could be a living sacrifice for God instead of sacrificing other things like their bodies. This reminds me of Romans 12:1-8. Those are some great verses. I will continue to keep praying for all of you. I’m so proud of you all. Keep up the great work!

    P.S.- How did Keith do with the whole not being able to talk thing? haha 😛

    • ebccrosswalk August 4, 2010 / 7:33 pm

      Ummm… I’m not sure how Keith did with the “no talking” clause, but I think we can both make a good guess (we were in different groups).

  2. Becky Hoglund August 4, 2010 / 2:07 pm

    Hi Mike,
    We are praying for you guys many times throughout each day. It sounds like you are all having an incredible experience so far. It’s a lot to process….I will be praying specifically about that.

    Please tell Elsa we love her and miss her very much!


    • ebccrosswalk August 4, 2010 / 7:32 pm

      “hi mom!!!! its elsa btw (obviously) i just wanted to let you know that i love and miss you all but am not ready to come home just yet haha i have some cool stories i want to share with you, God has been working here in so many ways and its wonderful to be able to be a part of it. Thanks for letting me go to Canada 🙂 love you! ill see you saturdayyyy <3"

  3. Pete Hoglund August 5, 2010 / 8:18 am

    Hi Team!

    We are so proud of all of you and your efforts. Its had work following Christ but living with Him and for Him is so worth it. Thank you leaders for your love for our children and your desire to help them grow in Christ! Our prayers are with you many times each day.
    Pastor Pete

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