My name is Andrew Day.
Over the past two months I have been given the opportunity to take an intimate look into what exactly happens when you are welcomed inside the red doors of Brunswick Street Mission.
On a personal level, my goal had been to dig deep, to see for myself what was at the heart of the mission. I guess the best way I could explain it is while I wanted to know who the mission were helping and how, more importantly to me was why.
I mentioned something along that lines one day to Agar Smith, Benevolent Coordinator at Brunswick Street. His wise and earnest reply was "Andrew, we, as human beings, have a responsibility to assist our neighbours in need. For those who are able and willing to take steps help gain stability in their lives, we have a responsibility to help them overcome the obstacles to get them there. So, with that said; as a mission we are responsible."
Agar, sitting in his office at the back end of the mission at the time , his walls are lined with pairs of work boots, socks and even some groceries, proceeded to reach into his desk drawer. He pulled out a book and handed it to me. It was thick, all about the history of the property, the church and the origins of the mission. He said "You know, Brunswick Street Mission has been around for well over a hundred years. I'll bet if you learn the history, you'll likely see that the reasons why the mission began and the reasons why we still do what we do today, haven’t really changed that much. So to be a part of something with so much history of helping people within the community and for the mission to have survived for so long, I find wonderfully interesting.”
After leaving Agar, I walked down the hallway while reflecting on conversations that I’d recently had with his clients, and how they credit him with so much. For saving them in crisis and for guiding them, but more importantly for genuinely and consistently caring about them and their future. Meanwhile Agar takes nothing from it himself. He credits the clients for their effort and the services of the mission, and his own part, a humble responsibility as a human being.
I walk by Laura’s open door and smile in at her, in passing. She signals out quietly to get me to come back. I turned around and then into her office. She’s digging into her bag and pulls out a zip-lock baggie with two homemade muffins. Smiling, she hands them to me and said “These are for you, but don’t tell because I didn’t bring enough for everyone.” Laura is Trustee Program Coordinator at the Brunswick Street Mission.
The Trustee Program is responsible for hundreds of people whom without it, would be at very real and immanent risk of homelessness. Many clients in this program struggling with mental illness and addictions. She told me that she would be very sad at the thought of her clients being stigmatised as an alcoholic or whatnot because in the end, everyone is an individual. Everyone has their own individual struggles, but no matter what, everyone deserves kindness, understanding and dignity.
As for Liam, Kitchen Coordinator for the Breakfast Program; truthfully, till now, I haven’t asked what drives him. That said, I may have spent the most time with him of all, as I’ve been tending to hang out in the kitchen and it is a pleasure to watch him interact with the people who come for a meal. His understanding of each of them personally, combined with his talents coordinating a very busy kitchen service is beautiful to get to be a part of. I once watched him serve up breakfast for a man who was standing in the dining room. The man, for whatever reason was quite disoriented. He murmured something to Liam, I couldn’t understand it. Liam’s facial expression didn’t change, he walked out of the dining room and into the clothing centre. He soon returned with a belt, a screwdriver and a hammer. The man had explained to him that his pants were falling off and he couldn’t fix it. Liam had found a belt, but it was too large for the man’s thin waist. He used the screwdriver and the hammer to poke new holes in the belt for him. The man was too disoriented to put it on himself. So, Liam took a knee and put on the belt for him, the man’s arms raised up above his head. When the belt was tightly secured, Liam asked if he was alright and the man nodded. Still with an unchanged expression, Liam heads back to the kitchen and carries on with his duties. I think I could represent Liam best if I said that a big part of his heart is believing everyone has a right to a meal and to be safe.
In the short period of time that I’ve spent at Brunswick Street Mission I’ve often been rendered speechless. 2 months of visiting and I meet a new volunteer every time I go. Each one with individual reasons why they do what they do. All offering their unique abilities and personalities that enriches and diversifies the core of the mission. Many volunteers use, or have used services offered by Brunswick Street Mission. Most Food Bank days that I’ve been a part of, the very people registered to use the service that day are the ones offloading the delivery made by Feed Nova Scotia. I’ve been told that some volunteers start while having a meal at the morning’s Breakfast Program. The person sees that some plates need to be cleared, so they do it to pitch in. Over time they do more and more and before you know it, they are part of the Brunswick Street Mission volunteer team.
I was equally overwhelmed by the support from the community, the way that the people of Halifax rally’s around the mission when they need to. I saw this first hand when I sent out a request on social media on behalf of our Clothing Centre volunteers. Individuals, businesses and local organisations all reached out to us and offered support. The request for men’s shoes was shared to over one hundred thousand people. Local news agencies reached out as well, eager to spread the word. So many people stepped up to ensure that our need was filled on a scale that I hadn’t dreamt of.
I remember during one news interview I was asked whether there are people walking into Brunswick Street Mission without shoes. I relied truthfully, that it does happen. I’ve witnessed one man who walked into the mission with only stockings on his feet. Holes in the toes. He walked into the reception area, sat down and asked for a pair of shoes. But After the interview, I spoke about the question to Jennifer, a volunteer at the clothing centre. Her insight was yes there are many that the mission serves who are in that level of need, but it’s more than just them. The clothing centre, food bank and tax programs, these are tools that members of our community have available to them if they need it. There are many individuals and families living under the poverty line or classified as the working poor, but contribute as much to the community as any other. These people need to know that they are welcome at Brunswick Street Mission and that they should visit with dignity. Many programs are in place to fill in gaps and to overcome obstacles when dealing with low income situations. So, the mission’s clientele and why they use the service is as diverse as the volunteer team.
So, I’m left with these thoughts amongst many others, still with the duty of telling you a story that could garner the financial support and recognition that the Brunswick Street Mission deserves. To condense what the core of the mission is and still do it justice, would possibly take a more talented human being than me. What I can tell you is only what I have seen and what I’ve taken from it in this short time.
To that end, I believe at Brunswick Street Mission’s core is its people. From the time the mission began, be it 150 years ago, all the way till now, I’d bet that consistently the strength and heart has always been those who simply and purely want to help their neighbours and offer what they can. Brunswick Street Mission throughout history of the great city of Halifax, has been a part of so many people’s lives. In the past as now, the reasons for any individual, be that a volunteer, donor, coordinator or client, for becoming part of the Brunswick Street Mission family are as unique to each person as a fingerprint. Each of us has something to give and small role to play in that story.
Poverty itself has a large scope. Therefore Brunswick Street Mission offers as large as scope as they can, with the resources that they have in order to help people fight it.
With such history, the connection to so many in the community and essential programs that are relied on by such large numbers of people, it is our responsibility as human beings to support them. It is our responsibility to ensure growth and development of the Brunswick Street Mission as a means to help our neighbours who need us. We must ensure the survival of the mission, so that long after our time as part of the Brunswick Street story has ended, that new generations have the tools, resources and guidance to keep the mission alive for whatever reason is unique to you.. and to them.
Andrew Day is an international aid, development and human rights consultant. Day is also a photojournalist and your new communications and fundraising professional with Brunswick Street Mission.
The Brunswick Street Mission
2107 Brunswick Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada B3K 2Y4
Phone: 902 423 4605
Fax: 902 423 4838