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Pastoral Ministry I: Understanding the Marginalized … On the Streets of Sydney.

Updated: Jan 11

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Hebrews 13:2 KJV

I live in Sydney, on the Island of Cape Breton, in the Province of Nova Scotia. The economy of the Island was at one time more prosperous then it is today. Our natural resources of  coal, lumber and fish were plentiful and we had a thriving steel plant. When one adds to the mix, the scenic beauty of the island, it is understandable to see how one could be happy enough to spend the rest of their lives in Cape Breton.


Slowly over time, with some minor ups and downs, the economy began to weaken and the prosperity of the island was replaced by poorly run coal mines, a sagging steel market, a depleting forest and fishing industry. From the 1970's until well into the 1990's, unemployment was at about fifteen percent, but unofficially it stood at about fourty percent. It was a depressed economy.


The solution for the young people was to leave Cape Breton and to join the many others who left during earlier down turns. Some people, like myself, had at least one person working in the family, but others weren't so fortunate. There were a lot of families with no one working in the home and social assistance is the only recourse.

Back then, especially in the weakened economy, the government provided what it determined to be enough for people to survive. Of course, they were unable to help everyone, such as the people that were even less fortunate then the unemployed. The government gave what it could and if it was not enough, then people were for forced to go to their family, their church, or somewhere else.  


So, people such as single mothers struggled, married couples split up in order for someone to go away and look for work and seniors, who are not all wealthy, tried to make ends meet ithrough their golden years. Then there were the people who felt they were being forced to beg as a way to simply survive. Is it any different today in this economy?

Steve's Story: On the Streets of Sydney.


In Sydney, there's was a guy by the name of Steve. I've knew him for twenty-five years. Everyone in Industrial Cape Breton knew Steve. He mentally challenged, alone and very street smart. He was one of a growing number of Street people in the Sydney area.


Steve had been begging for money since he was at least a teenager, he never forced the issue and most of the time he was polite. Some people brushed him off, while others would dig out a little change. He simply pocketed the money and moved on.

Steve was marginalized because he was both mentally challenged and unemployable. In 1997, He received $548.00 a month on social assistance of which $225.00 goes to room and board. So he had $223.00 a month to live on. I dare say at that time most people would have a hard time living on $65.00 a week. Many people lived on that amount of assistance, or even less, and so the choice becomes clear for them; they must beg to exist. Of course, back then some people thought that was plenty to live on, but most likely, they were not in that persons shoes and probably couldn't live on $ 65.00 a week either.


The stigma of being out of work is made worse by long bouts of unemployment and hopelessness, which bites at the soul of each person, and can bring on further crises of abuse and alcoholism, to name only a few. In an area where one can be unemployed for a very long period of time, any additional perceived personal liabilities could put people on the street.

What is "Hope" for Steve?

Hope for Steve and a Marginalized population is to have at least enough sustenance to live on and a chance to have a more dignified life, where they can be looked upon with the respect every person deserves. They desperately struggle for this kind of support.


Let's face it, more people are working, even in Eastern Nova Scotia, then are unemployed. Individually, we have more than enough and I certainly believe that the Christian thing to do is to share what we have with those less fortunate.


United Church Pastor, Rev. Dr, Christopher Levan (1953- ) in his book, The Dancing Steward, states that "We must let go!" We would be well served to do what governments and businesses are reluctant to do and that is take care of all the people. And if possible, give them more than enough. Would you want to live on less than enough? Not have proper shelter? Enough food? Not be able to provide for your family? Have it as part of your lifelong struggle? I think not!


A Connection between Steve's Misery and Our Life Choices?

Cape Breton is a small island and many of its families have lived here for at least two or three generations. The ties that bind are strong. However, when things get bad, human nature may not always be as nurturing for its more disenfranchised residents, certainly as one would hope.


Thus, some businesses see street people as an annoyance to their customers and the various governments seek to move them out of the public eye. A lot of  people don't want to part with even a penny and can be very uncharitable. Steve and many of his kind have quite often been exploited and abused. However, I feel that life can be unpredictable and its not ridiculous to think that even the most successful person can be, if not begging on the street, looking for social assistance someday. You just never know.

Perhaps if the shoe was on the other foot, maybe, just maybe, an understanding about the indignity of being Marginalized would be revealed and we would be inclined to be a bit more generous to our neighbour. Hope, for me, is to learn to provide hope for everybody and that begins with simple Christian Charity.

"Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 10:21 KJV


Originally entitled Understanding The Marginalized... Begging On The Streets Of Cape Breton to Dr, Christopher Levan as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement

531 E - Social Ministry - St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta

Published on January 20th, 1997 {Revised November 21st, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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