Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'No room at the inn in Manitoba' for needy

Christmas Eve trek stresses need for affordable housing

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

In the West Broadway neighbourhood Christmas Eve, members of the West Broadway Community Ministry stop at John Schwandt's house looking for a place to stay in a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph's biblical search for shelter. The ministry group, including three supporting churches (Young United, Hope Mennonite and All Saints Anglican) went out on Christmas Eve in search of affordable housing for baby Jesus. In the Mexican tradition of La Posada, they knocked on doors in search of a room but were turned away at each one. This year there was a political twist to the proceedings, focusing on the lack of housing for the poor in Manitoba.

"There's no place to go for the Holy Child. Is there no room in Winnipeg?"

So asked 21 members of three West Broadway-area churches who united to pound the pavement on Christmas Eve, knocking on doors on Langside Street in pursuit of affordable housing for Jesus.

In a stunt found more commonly in Mexico, the group performed a version of La Posada, which translates to "the inn." It tells the story of Mary's and Joseph's search for an inn where baby Jesus would be born -- but with a twist.

Community minister Lynda Trono of West Broadway's Community Ministry organized the roaming play and wrote its script, which talked about the lack of affordable housing for those in need in Winnipeg.

"It's a symbolic door-knocking that has to do with there being no room at the inn and right now there's no room at the inn in Manitoba," Trono said.

Trono wants to raise awareness about the meagre amount of money given to Manitobans living on social assistance and trying to afford rent.

"A single person gets $285 per month and so you can't find anything for that. You can find a bedbug-infested rooming house for that. Otherwise, you're using what little money you have for food to supplement your rent," she said.

Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg was $969 in October, a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. shows.

Those marching Tuesday night hope Manitoba's next budget, slated for the spring, will include a raise in rental allowance for those on social assistance.

Between lines of pointed dialogue, they sang carols and hymns such as Joy to the World and My Soul Cries Out while playing instruments throughout the 45-minute walk.

Fourteen-year-old Kate Sutherland enthusiastically played Mary, pleading with Langside Street resident Corrie Peters.

"Please sir, we have come a long way. We are very tired and I am about to give birth. I have $285 for rent. Can we rent a room here?" Sutherland asked.

Peters replied as scripted before slamming her door shut.

"Two-eighty-five -- are you kidding me? Rent is way more than that. Our rooms here go for $675. I can't help it if the government doesn't give you enough money to live on. I have to make a living, too. If you can't pay, you can't stay. Get out," said Peters, reading her lines.

Mary and Joseph, who was played by Sam Dyck, 20, were turned away at four houses on Langside -- all of whom had been previously briefed on the play. Then, they knocked on the door of the Young United Church and were allowed to stay.

"We're trying to find an inn for Jesus, but we're also trying to raise awareness to the poverty and homelessness within the community," said Todd Donahue, a frequent volunteer with the church and around the West Broadway area.

He brought with him instruments he'd made while volunteering at Art City, including a scrap-metal guitar and a skin drum.

"I've got a cold, but I woke up rather abruptly today and something told me inside that I should be here," Donahue said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2013 A8

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