by Kelly Oribine
I guess I always knew that Belleville needed a homeless shelter. But it wasn’t until I came to know the people in need of shelter that I was moved to action.
For the past two years I’ve been involved with nightlight Belleville, first as a volunteer and then as executive director. In this time I have made friends with an eclectic group of people, people who challenge, inspire, encourage and teach me. And in those 2 years I have watched many of these friends find themselves in a housing crisis. On some occasions I brought these friends home with me, put them up in our guest room or a small retro trailer in my backyard. Other times I advocated for them, trying to arrange some sort of temporary solution. Too many times I watched a friend in distress leave at the end of the night with nowhere to go. Every time, I was reminded that Belleville desperately needs a homeless shelter.
When I was 19 and working at a drop in centre in downtown Ottawa I would often daydream about starting a shelter. Not just any shelter, but one with a focus on community, mentorship, and dignity. Shaped by my readings of Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier and Brennan Manning, this was a shelter where people weren’t just housed, but welcomed, embraced, and built up. At the time, in my daydreams, the shelter was in an old motel, 2 single beds in each room, and residents working side by side with volunteers in the kitchen. This dream was called Grace Inn. Marriage and motherhood put this dream on a back burner. But friendship has brought this dream back to life.
In the book of James there is a verse that says if somebody is hungry or in need of clothes, don’t just say “bless you, stay warm and fed” but feed them, clothe them. It’s not much of a leap to apply this verse to shelter too. I cannot lock up the drop-in centre at night and say “take care, I hope you find a place” anymore.
So I have stepped down from my position at nightlight to start Grace Inn, a 12 to 15 bed shelter that we hope to see opening in Belleville by fall of 2016. nightlight’s focus on intentional life giving relationships has changed my life, changed my heart, and redirected our family’s focus. Because friends don’t let friends sleep on park benches.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
― William Wilberforce