Becoming Neighbours


Illustration by Anika Bauman

I first encountered Kinbrace in 2013 while sitting in the upstairs room of a Catholic soup kitchen in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It was late spring and I had just finished exams, completing my second year of university in International Studies. To start off the summer I had decided to get to know my own city better, participating in an “urban partnership”: five weeks of experiential learning in a resilient neighbourhood at the intersection of poverty and addiction.

During this time, my peers and I walked alongside people who were at perhaps the lowest point in their lives and discovered our shared humanity. With a focus on listening and learning, our group of fifteen students slept on the floor of a drop-in centre, ate breakfast with men in an addiction recovery program, and lined up for lunch, laundry, and showers. Waiting in queues with residents of the Downtown Eastside, I felt very out of place; clearly we didn’t “fit” in this neighbourhood. But I also felt the fiercely protective love of our new friends — people who were making the best of life on the margins.

Over the weeks, we observed various models of service provision — from soup kitchens to community kitchens. I took note of the trade-offs: help hundreds or serve a few, provide temporary relief or invest in long-haul relationships, accept “clients” or receive friends. Although there was no doubt that emergency shelters and soup kitchens were necessary in this context, they seemed to fall short of affirming human dignity. Surrounded by overwhelming need, I felt personally drawn to community kitchens and informal “living rooms” — places where people who were socioeconomically diverse shared the same space, rather than being segregated by a service counter. It was in these gathering places, at a common table, that I could meet people face to face, encountering both beauty and brokenness head-on.

One morning Loren Balisky, co-founder of Kinbrace Community Society, visited our group as a guest speaker. In that upstairs room of the soup kitchen, he shared with us Kinbrace’s five core values: welcome, trust, mutual transformation, celebration, and prayer. These words, birthed from within a community of newcomers to Canada, articulated something I already felt forming within me. Young and full of aspiration to live well in a world full of suffering and joy, I listened intently as Loren expanded on these values. I was on the edge of my seat. One day, I thought, I would love to be part of that community.

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