AFC helps fund renovations for downtown Ottawa’s compassionate community hub
On a biting cold winter day in downtown Ottawa, there is much warmth to be found at St. Luke’s Table (SLT) for those who are experiencing homelessness, or who are marginally housed, lonely, struggling economically, and living with mental health and addictions issues.
Located at Somerset and Bell streets in a neighbourhood with Ottawa’s highest concentration of rooming houses, SLT has been a community ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa since 1983.
Described by those who attend as “a saving grace for the lonely” SLT’s commitment to the personal touch has survived pandemic protocols and capacity restrictions. “There’s a real relationship between the staff and the people who come here,” says Laura Macdonald, Office Manager, Anglican Diocese of Ottawa Day Programs. “Our social support workers will chat people up when they arrive because they know many of them by name.”
The rhythm of a typical day at SLT is that once health and safety measures have been met, community members proceed past the reception desk to the lower-level hall of St. Luke’s Church. The smell of fresh coffee adds to the air of hospitality. “Soon the smell of hot toast will greet them as well,” explains Macdonald. “People will be able to place their own bread in our new conveyor toaster. It will be a small but significant comfort for people living in rooming houses where they are often not allowed to cook food.”
After enjoying a warm breakfast, those who attend SLT can draw from a range of essential support services, which include a hot shower, help with laundry, the use of a personal computer, dry socks and a top-up on winter gear, fresh fruit from one of SLT’s community fridges, and, when needed, connection to more specialized resources such as housing solutions, dental care, and a community chaplain.
Recently, St. Luke’s Parish began making its highly flexible sanctuary space available as a respite centre, complete with cots and warm blankets. “For people who are sleeping in the rough,” says Macdonald, “sometimes they just want a safe, comfortable place during the day to lie down.”
The pandemic has channeled SLT’s programs and resources into providing basic human essentials and helping people to cope with the challenges of daily life. “Before the pandemic there would have been more recreational opportunities like cribbage and karaoke,” says Macdonald. “We’re hoping to start some of those activities as soon as we are able and gradually rebuild that sense of community. Isolation is difficult for all of us but especially the community we serve.”
At the onset of the pandemic SLT was asked by the City of Ottawa to expand its hours and services to include evenings and weekends. Macdonald explains it was a huge change for the organization. “We had to staff up and make more meals because people were coming back in the evening for supper. That was when we noticed that our old kitchen was struggling to keep up with the demand.”
Plans for major capital improvements were set in motion and work began this past November. Macdonald says, “The creativity and response from the staff and community supporters has been fantastic.” As part of AFC’s fall 2021 grant cycle, SLT was awarded $15,000 to help with some of the costs, which include replacing end-of-life equipment, expanding kitchen facilities, bringing important infrastructure up to current standards, making washrooms accessible, and renovating community meeting space to improve and expand programming.
“We are thinking every day about what the community needs and if we have to change what we are doing to address some new challenge,” says Macdonald. “It’s intense. Things are changing every day. Staff are to be commended for their adaptability and flexibility. They are really good at what they do, and most of them, if you ask, will say they got into this line of work because they want to help people.”
From the physical warmth—coffee, toast, and meals—to that much deeper sensation of warmth that comes through finding a place of belonging and connection, SLT is a truly compassionate friend to this urban community, and a place where hope can indeed be nourished.
At AFC, grants for Community Ministries fund projects that reflect the breadth of care and compassion across the Canadian church. To learn more about the extraordinary work of our grant recipients, download a copy of our 2021 Donor Impact Report. Thank you for supporting AFC!