Today was a funny day for me and to be quite frank I am still a little peeved, surprised and confused about what took place. I have taken pictures of just about every building, prison halfway house, community center and juvenile institution in this city and never was I chased down, harassed asked for my camera and told it was illegal to take pictures of a building. Well lets start at the beginning shall we, I was finishing up a story of how and when I got to go to Camp Livingstone a Christian Camp in the Eastern Townships and how instrumental the Welcome Hall mission was in giving me that chance to spend 2 weeks a year in Christian fellowship when I realised that it might be a good thing if I put in a picture of the place and it might give them a nice plug at the same time, but that was not to be the case, but I will get back to that in a moment.
Since the time I was deemed old enough to go to church I have gone to Sunday school at Welcome Hall Mission. I was at the mission from the time it was on St. Antoine just past Peel Street, probably longer than most of the Sunday School teachers, the Directors of which I was there for at least 3 since 1960, (Mr, Raymor, Mr, MacNerrin and Mr. Morffat) and there has never been a no picture policy. People were not encouraged to hide in the mission, whether they were recovering alcoholics, or had some other problems and everyone who attended the Sunday School was encouraged to interact with those down on their luck and in fact one of the recovering alcoholics was a Sunday School teacher of mine in the Welcome Hall mission of St. Antoine and Peel St.
The man’s name was Mr. Bailey and I thought that just knowing him proved that God indeed helped and loved everyone equally. When the Welcome Hall moved over to its present location the administration decided to become more involved in the community and started to outreach to not only men in trouble, but to the poor of the neighbourhood and really tried to help with things like having days when people could come and get clothing, toys and other things. I was given my first and only set of ski’s from the Welcome Hall Mission. There were all sorts of fellowship programs for young girls and women of the community started by Ms. Audrey Kemp.
Sunday afternoon meetings were held in the main hall off of the administration offices on the main floor and everyone; the homeless and unwashed, the Sunday School children and the parents all attended that meeting together until it was time for Sunday School and we were separated into classes by age. We were taught that all that came to God were welcome at the Welcome Hall Mission and that God did not care what you looked like, what you were wearing, or that the person sitting next to you might care what you smelled like, rest assured God did not. On very hot days it was almost unbearable when the wind blew a certain way, but we sang worshipped together all of us God’s children, in God’s house and at God’s mercy.
We all knew that the main function, the orignal purpose was to help these men and at the same time bring to them the word of God. The Welcome hall mission thus became a part of the community, ours, a place as needed, respected as any of our community centers, churches, or charitable organizations. It was no longer an eyesore, or a place that brought alcoholics and the homeless into our community every day as they looked for food and shelter. I lived on Versailles Street for all of my childhood and a great deal of my young adult life. My Auntie Winnie volunteered there and worked alongside Ms. Kemp. My family and Welcome Hall Mission have had a rich history and I think one of the things that made it work in the community was its open door, nothing to hide policy, which brings us back to today.
As I mentioned earlier, I pulled up to the Welcome Hall Mission parking across the street from it on purpose, so that I could get the shot of the building leaving out any of the people who are always lounging around on the grass out in front. I had just started to take a picture when I heard voices saying no pictures. At this point they were noises seeming to come from behind trees, so I ignored them and took the picture of the building that I had come for and began to move off. I was out to get pictures of a public swimming pool I used to go to, the building that used to house the day nursery that I attended, the community center that I attended cub scouts in and the community center that I attended as a teen, also in the neighbourhood. It was 3 blocks over while taking a picture of the day nursery that I was asked by a guy holding up his cellular phone pretending to do an interview asking me,” How are you doing?”, I said, “Fine and you?”, to which he said. “I will have to take your camera”. Now this guy had followed me three blocks and was telling me that taking pictures of a mission house was illegal and threatened me with calling the police. When I tried to leave he stood in front of my van blocking my way forcing me to back down the street to get around him. This guy actually wrote down my license plate number. I am often parked in the area, my Auntie Winnie owning a house one street over, so now I am thinking that if anything were to happen to my vehicle I would naturally have to report him as a prime suspect now. All of this because I wanted to add a face to a story.
I was not running away as the guy thought, I was trying to return to the Welcome Hall Mission to find out what all the fuss was about. I entered the Welcome Hall Mission and was met at the reception desk by another rude person, who seemed to think that this type of behaviour was acceptable and told me in the future get permission to take pictures of his building. He told me that these men for various reasons did not like their pictures being taken and that I had broken the law by taking pictures. I told him I had not taken any pictures of any person and that I was only interested in showing where I went to Sunday School in my post. He as much called me a liar and I told him that I would write about him this day. I asked him what they were trying to hide here with all of the secrecy, but received no answer just more threats to take my camera and repeated warnings that taking the pictures of their building had put me in violation of the law. I explained to the man, that I have taken pictures of Kingston Penitentiary with no problem, I also took the opportunity to tell him that all of this secrecy and hiding looked very bad and I failed to see the need for any of it and left.
What I did not know was that while I was inside of the mission someone else was at my van talking to the driver asking why we were taking pictures. The driver explained what the pictures were of and what they were for. The man claimed to be in charge of the posse sent to bring us back said that the Welcome Hall Mission had sent out lots of people throughout the community to find us and find out why we were taking pictures of their building. The person left before I got to the van, but told the driver that he would talk to his people and he knew now that we were good people, but why did someone not just ask us not to take pictures of the men.
I understand the right to privacy, but places like the Welcome Hall Mission need to understand that they are part of a large community and what they do in their place, their building affects the whole neighbourhood. If these men are indeed ex-cons as I know a lot of them are and they are getting help there that is all good, but this kind of sanctioned heavy-handed treatment of people does not do the Welcome Hall Mission, or the people they are trying to help any good. When you become secretive people are likely to start blaming the people that you are trying to help with the rash of breaking and entriings happening in the area. Barriers go up, misunderstandings and bad feelings happen, because of the heavy-handed actions and gangster tactics that were tried on me today.
I am sure that the good work that has always been done is still going on at the Welcome Hall Mission, but I think that the administration should advise the people seeking its help that they are coming into our community and they must respect the law, the community and try to remember that threatening the people of the community will see them not here at all. My experience with your volunteers whom I assume are Christians has not made me feel good about how the non saved people would behave. Everyone who enters or leaves your building is your responsibility and is an ambassador and a reflection of your work and your ministry and as such should conduct themselves accordingly and leave the aggressive behavior somewhere else. They should remember that everyone is not responsible for their pain and not everyone is trying to hurt them. If I was going to donate to the Welcome Hall Mission the behavior and manner in which I was hunted down and accosted has not made me feel generous. Please remind these men that they are the guests in this community, not us.