Help is needed at home first. Until we have things sorted out here, how can we expect to be of use to others? How can we keep welcoming refugees when we are already being pushed to our limits? How can we house foreigners when we have well over a thousand people on our waiting list for housing?
But when we see pictures of tent cities, of children lacking basic necessities, of another 40 people drowning in the polluted waters of the Mediterranean, when we hear the stories of war crimes and fear, how can we not help?
As we prepare this Friday to close the doors of our one and only transitional home for youth and as we welcome another 79 refugees into our community, we are faced with the immediate needs of both the local and the international communities. As of Friday there will no longer be a safe place for homeless youth to live and get the help they need. When Safe Harbour closes its doors, it leaves a gap in the community that threatens the safety and education of our most vulnerable youth. At the same time, the staff and volunteers of the YMCA Newcomers Connection are going to be overwhelmed with the need to find housing, food, childcare, furniture, clothing, and provide culture and language courses to the next wave of refugees.
It’s a time of stress for our little city of Saint John. In times of stress and fatigue, we often say or do things without thinking the consequences through, without being sensitive to all sides. There are those who would pit one of these groups against the other. There are those who would suggest that there are too many needs in our over-stretched community to welcome more foreigners. There are those who would suggest that that it would be nice to have food and housing provided. There are those who would imply that homeless youth and refugees are not our responsibility. And of course there is the great temptation to place all of the blame at the feet of our government and its representatives.
But there are also those who have responded to both needs by asking “What can I do?”, “How can I help?”. There have been wonderful surprises and outpourings of generosity. From members of the Homeless community in Calgary advocating for the needs of Refugees, to unlikely volunteers signing up to serve meals, to students organizing a rally for Safe Harbour, to the many people who are donating time and money to help those who are ridding on the outside of our established community.
We wouldn’t for a second wish on anyone the kinds of adversity that Homeless youth and refugees have had to face. We desperately hope for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as outlined in the Millennium goals. Our hearts tighten when we see or hear of the needs around us. And in our own moments of need, how we (often silently) plead for help.
Yet somehow, it seems that, we are at our best when we are extending ourselves towards others. When we can set our efforts and attention away from ourselves and respond in tangible ways to the true needs of other people, we feel more alive, more human.
The early Church when it was first forming, was given a mission that encompassed both local and international needs. The last thing Jesus said to his followers before being lifted up to heaven was that they were to be his witnesses “In Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It seems that we have been given the capacity to think and act both in local and international dimensions, maybe it’s even good for us.
There is no shortage of will and heart in the city of Saint John. We do have a problem coordinating our efforts and doing things together, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, here’s what we can do:
- Pray for the needs of our City, for the Refugees arriving, for all migrants around the world, for issues of homelessness and poverty, for the 10 youth who have to leave Safe Harbour and find new homes, for the staff of Safe Harbour who are looking for work.
- Petition our government representatives (our MLA’s, Social Development) for the needs of homeless youth in our community.
- Contact the YMCA Newcomers Connection and ask how we can help. firstname.lastname@example.org (506) 634-4860.
- Donate to Safe Harbour – even though we are closing our doors, we are working hard to reopen soon. Our biggest need is operational funding. Donations can be made through the pay pal account on our web site: safeharboursj.ca.
- Get to know Refugees and New Immigrants. Have them over for a meal. Be their friends. Organize a Potluck.
- Enjoy being part of a global community!
By Jasmine Chandra