Garry Knight "Homeless by a Wall" (Flickr CC)

Ministry encourages small towns to join the fight against homelessness

“I will not leave my family on the streets”

WINNIPEG, MB—As the temperature plummets, those living out in the cold suffer most, a life Ron Eldridge knows more than most after spending over a decade living on the streets.

“It’s not easy,” he says. “You break into abandoned buildings just to get out of the wind, or get into apartment buildings and hide in the laundry room for the night.”

Emergency beds quickly fill up at shelters. “It’s just not enough,” Eldridge says. He started Devoted to You Street Ministries in 2006, providing support for men and women on the street. When finances allow, the ministry even checks people into a motel for a night, a chance to get a decent sleep and a warm shower.

Now Eldridge is hoping to find someone willing to supply a building the ministry can convert into emergency shelter with 100-200 beds to give people a place to go on the coldest nights.

Eldridge knows the power of a helping hand. If it wasn’t for the woman who helped him get off the streets, and who would eventually become his wife, he says he doesn’t know what he would have done.

However, even after escaping the streets and finding a job, he says it was time to give back.

“I said, ‘I will not leave my family on the streets,’” Eldridge explains, prompting him to start Devoted to You. Even now, he says most nights he and his wife will wake up at 1 a.m and go downtown to share a coffee with his homeless family. Some they pray with, but they don’t push it, he says.

“We want them to feel comfortable,” he says.

It’s Eldridge’s own story, and the plight of so many still living that life in Winnipeg, that is inspiring others to get involved. One woman in Miami, Manitoba, purchased 100 pairs of long johns and donated them to Devoted to You.

“What a God-send,” Eldridge says.

Eldridge also speaks in churches across Manitoba and says while smaller communities are unaccustomed to seeing people living on the streets, they are responding to their plight.

Last year the Carman Pentecostal Church joined Devoted to You after Eldridge spoke and shared his testimony.

“They were so interested in what Devoted to You does,” he says.

The church has rented storage space for donated clothes and items, which used to be stored in Eldridge’s home.

“We praise God everyday for their involvement,” Eldridge says.

The congregation from Carman Pentecostal came down last year during Devoted to You’s annual clothing give-away to get to know the people they are helping, and Eldridge says everyone came away from the encounter forever changed.

“They had a whale of a time,” he says. “We love what we do; we just have so much fun doing it.”

“It’s so uplifting to see small towns moved for the homeless,” he says, even though many don’t see people living on the streets where the live.

“But they are responding,” he says.

In total Eldridge estimates there are anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 people living on the streets in Winnipeg, and many more people are only one paycheque away from joining them.

“The only reason I am off the streets is [my wife] Marsha,” he says. “She took me in and cleaned me up; God put her in my path.” And now, Eldridge says, he believes God is waiting for others to join them in helping those in need.

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