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Ark Aid Street Mission
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By Doug Whitelaw

As one of the city's soup kitchen's, the Ark Aid Street Mission has a front row seat to the apparently deteriorating physical and social conditions of our most vulnerable.

Picture 1

Ten years ago, we served an average of 55 meals per night. Five years ago we averaged 75. In June this year, we averaged 100 for the first time and in July, 109. Part of this summer's increase can be attributed to some church meal programs on summer pause, but overall the numbers confirm what your eyes tell you: there are more people spending more time on the street.

The causes and solutions are complex. We obviously need more mental health care funding, more addiction services, more affordable housing, housing with support and OW/ODSP income supports need to more realistically reflect the actual cost of rent. Despite our previous mayor's Poverty Panel and its 112 recommendations and our previous provincial government styling itself as 'anti-poverty,' here we are. Picture 1 In the meatime, the Christian community addresses the challenges: The Sisters of St. Joseph, Mission Services of London, The Salvation Army, The Ark Aid Street Mission, countless churches with food cupboards and meal programs and London's newest Christian agency, Indwell, providing affordable, supported housing.

As a small agency primarily focused on food security, the Ark Aid Mission has increased its efforts in a couple of ways. One is managing the food collection for the London Food Coalition, presently comprised of 23 agencies with food security programs. In 2018, the first full year of operation, the Coalition collected 220,000 lbs of food that was served by member agencies in neighourhoods and with their other services. For example, one partner is the Ontario School Nutrition Program, where food was provided to 11 schools during the recent school year. (Unfortunately, there are 60 more schools on the list needing food and often the barrier is volunteers – a great opportunity for churches to connect with their local school). The Food Coalition, nominated for a 2019 Pillar Community Innovation Award helps the Ark serve healthier meals while reducing food costs and increasing program potential of member agencies.

Years ago, my colleague Wayde and I worked with local mission, Mission Partners International providing humanitarian support to the burgeoning church in the former Soviet Union. As we traveled there, we found that virtually any church, even house churches had a drug rehab house. They had them because addiction was a widespread problem and no one else was doing anything to help. They didn't have great programs. It was just two or three recovering people living with one or two mentors. They functioned on the same basis that caused one psychiartrist to say the Ark was the 'best mental health facility in the city,' not because we are experts on anything but because we are here, everyday, doing our best to share Christ's love.

Beginning this summer, in partnership with Dr. Susanne Baldeosingh, a recent Tyndale D.Min graduate, the Ark will be hosting counselling sessions which in addition to providing individual therapy will also provide supervised hours for new counsellors to gain their professional certification. That is to say, we will be working to increase the number of certified counsellors, thus addressing another system shortfall. Susanne specializes in trauma counselling, especially signficant when you understand that 99% of women and 50% of men who are street-involved have been sexually abused. Counselling services will be available to the wider community as opportunity permits on a sliding fee scale (call the Ark).

How to Volunteer
The Ark depends upon volunteers! Some 700 people come in each month to serve in some way. Some come in daily, some weekly, some once a month. Many people think of serving food when they think of the Ark – and lots of people do that. But there are many other things to do and there are things we are not doing because we are waiting for a volunteer! So, think about your skills and interests and how they might be used to help people in need. If you would like to volunteer as an individual or group, please visit the Volunteer page and follow the instructions there.

For more information on this important London Ministry, call of visit:

Ark Aid Street Mission Inc.
696 Dundas St,
London, ON N5W 2Z4
Phone: (519) 667-0322

God is providing the church the means to demonstrate its relevance in our post-modern culture and to hold our young people who are already passionate about social justice. If we look past liability, not focus on what we don't have but do what the church has always done best, that is to love the marginalized, the situation is not as bleak at it seems. We look forward to speaking with others who are sensing this same calling!