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Christmas Eve trek stresses need for affordable housing

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Members of the West Broadway Community Ministry look for a place to stay during 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.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Members of the West Broadway Community Ministry look for a place to stay during 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. Photo Store

"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 that united to pound the pavement on Christmas Eve, knocking on doors on Langside St. 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," telling the story of Mary 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" - community minister Lynda Trono.

"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 meager 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 bed bug-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, according to a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Those marching on Tuesday night hope this current disparity is addressed by the provincial government and that Manitoba's next budget 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 St. 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 said.

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.

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.

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