By: Jim Bell, Siloam Mission CEO

I didn’t expect to meet someone in the lineup of a homeless shelter who had grown up in my neigbhourhood – much less know his sister.

But that’s what happened to me last year after I struck up a conversation with a gentleman using the services of Siloam Mission.

He recognized me from my previous job with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. We started talking football. His voice turned nostalgic when he told me about a happy childhood growing up close to the old stadium.

That’s my story, too, so we started reminiscing about the old days. Turns out we grew up just a few streets from one another.

When I asked him for his full name, my ears perked up. It was his surname. It wasn’t a common one. But I remembered going to school with a girl of the same last name.

His eyes lit up when I mentioned her name. “That’s my sister,” he said.

Something changed for me in that moment.

Before joining Siloam Mission, I would drive past the building on Princess St. almost every morning on the way to the old office.

I’d see the lineup outside and think of it as the soup line, without giving it much further thought.

I never imagined that some of the men and women looking back at me had a similar upbringing to mine. Played ball hockey on the streets of the West End until it got dark. Drove their bikes to the stadium on game day to take in the excitement outside. Had family who loved them – who still love them.

I’m not afraid to admit that I was naïve about the issues of poverty and homelessness in our city. But I’ve come to learn a few things over the last year.

First, the reasons why people end up experiencing homelessness are far more complex than most of us imagine. They are often deep wounds rooted in trauma that can break even the strongest of men.

Second, we have a homelessness crisis in Winnipeg that is largely driven by a mental health crisis. So many people who use our services are in a temporary moment of crisis, unable to cope or move forward on their own.

They may be doing great one day, only to be in complete shambles the next one.

Third, what most people need – more than anything – are relationships with people who are willing to listen and stick around.

This isn’t easy. Alcohol and drug addictions can be frightening, leading people to burn all their bridges and hurt those who love them most.

But I’ve also learned that we can end homelessness in our lifetime by addressing each three of those issues.

And the solution is the same for each: community.

We can heal the wounds of trauma, mental health issues and addictions when we have a community committed to providing the resources and creativity needed to find solutions that work.

We can help people not only survive, but thrive, by creating a community that supports them in their recovery and creates new opportunities for housing and employment.

When I was a kid all I wanted to do was to work for the Winnipeg Football Club. I’m fortunate that I got to fulfill that dream.

But I have a new dream now. I want every man and woman in this city to have a safe place for the night.

And I want Winnipeg to lead the charge by creating the kind of community where it’s impossible for your high school friend’s brother to end up on the street.

Originally published by The Winnipeg Free Press