Home Community News Prayer Vigil Calls for Toronto to Keep the Unhoused Warm

Prayer Vigil Calls for Toronto to Keep the Unhoused Warm

‘Poverty is killing people, and we're here to voice our extreme concern for the fact that people don't have a warm place to go'

by Molly Cone and Lauren Stallone
Two individuals stand in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto Ontario both holding signs. The left sign says "I want you to share your bread with the hungry, open your homes to the homeless poor, remove the yoke of injustice, let the oppressed go free. Bible quote from Isaiah: 58," with an image of a illustrated person holding a loaf of bread. The right poster is a black and white photo of a body silhouette wrapped in a blanket laying on a bench with the text "In Truth I tell you, insofar as you did this to the the least of these brothers of mine, you did this to me. Matthew 25:40" as well as "Mayor Tory: Please Keep The Warming Centres Open."
Sandra Fowcett (right) stands in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, Ont. with signs asking “Mayor Tory. Please keep the warming centres open.” (Molly Cone/On The Record).

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Dozens showed up at Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday to exert pressure on city councillors to push through plans to keep warming centres in Toronto open all the time for those in need.

Among those who attended the silent prayer vigil were Sandra Fowcett and Reverends Angie Hocking, Greg Daly, and Alexa Gilmore.

Gilmore said they chose Nathan Phillips Square as the location of the peaceful demonstration to ensure there was a “prayerful presence” as the city council executive committee met to discuss whether they would pass the Toronto Board of Health’s motion to provide 24/7 access to warming centres.

“Nathan Phillips Square is a part of City Hall and it is right in front of the mayor’s windows where we know the meeting is taking place,” said Gilmore, “We think it’s really important to remind our leaders of our moral obligation to care for the city’s most vulnerable.”

At 12:30 p.m., the usually busy square was silent. Attendees stood bundled up from the cold facing Toronto City Hall. They reflected, remembered and requested change. The chime bells struck at 1 p.m. concluding the silence. Coffee was served, conversations were had, and prayers were written on a cloth large enough for all those walking through the square to see.

In early January, Gilmore, United Church Minister and founder of the vigil’s organizer Stone Soup Network, joined 150 other faith leaders in writing to the mayor to ask for an emergency meeting to discuss ways in which the city could support the unhoused.

According to Gilmore, the letter, along with numerous emails, have gone unanswered. Tuesday’s vigil was their next attempt. 

“The vigil is really about saying that this lack of concern for our neighbours is not what we are taught as people of faith and as Torontonians,” said Gilmore. “It’s horrific that in a city this wealthy we are lacking so much compassion.”

Alexa Gilmore stands in the centre of the photo taken at a snowy Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. She is speaking to people standing around and listening to her.
Rev. Alexa Gilmore speaks to the crowd about the plan for the afternoon and why they are gathered today. (Molly Cone/On The Record)

Angie Hocking is a community pastor committed to supporting individuals who are experiencing homelessness. She says she is planning a memorial to honour members of the community who have passed away while they were living on the streets.

“​​Poverty is killing people, and we’re here to voice our extreme concern for the fact that people don’t have a warm place to go,” Hocking said.

Greg Daly takes the 501 streetcar every day. On his travels, he interacts with those who cannot get into shelters or other housing options. He attended the vigil today in solidarity with those individuals. 

“We need to be able to ensure that everyone has equal access and a right to shelter. Shelter is the ground being stable for us and allows people to access other services,” Daly said.

An individual is bent over on one knee writing on the large cloth sign that says "Warming Centres 24-7." The cloth is being held up by two people looking at what the individual is writing.
Attendees were invited to write messages or prayers on the cloth surrounding the large message of “WARMING CENTRES 24-7.” (Molly Cone/On The Record)

“Sometimes we are called to a prayerful silence when words fail,” said Gilmore “We are gathering with a sense of dread for the weak and a powerful belief that when Torontonians come together miracles and kindness will happen.”

Taken from behind, the photograph shows around a dozen people bundled up in winter jackets facing Toronto City Hall.
Rev. Alexa Gilmore stands centre behind those who attended the silent vigil at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, ONT. (Molly Cone/On The Record)

Contributing Editor, On The Record, Winter 2023

Copy-editor, On The Record, Winter 2023

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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