Listen to the story here:
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.”
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.
“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.”