By: Ian DeJong | March 13, 2023
“The only thing that changes is the weather,” said one woman as she described her experience with homelessness in Hamilton (Butler 2023).
Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to Hamilton’s housing crisis. According to a recent report by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), if you earn less than $65,000 in a year, you are not financially secure enough to pay rent in almost any of Hamilton’s vacant apartments. This is what Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, called “an absolutely untenable situation for people” in the city (Hewitt 2023). In addition to this pressing issue, Hamilton still deals with a major opioid crisis, accompanied by a decline in mental health stability and a lack of community among the homeless population.
When we come across social injustices such as these, it is difficult to know where to begin in advancing the call to “uphold the cause for the poor and oppressed” (Psalm 82:3 NIV). In cooperation with Indwell, Toronto-born filmmaker John Butler directed a 42-minute documentary that serves as an excellent starting point for us as we answer this Biblical calling.
Indwell is a faith-based organization that provides affordable housing to those struggling to find community, health, and wellness. They currently have over a thousand residents across Southern Ontario. At the foundation of their organization, Indwell strongly holds on to values of love, hope, and the God-given dignity of all his people.
Through a well-crafted documentary, Butler displayed a disheartening picture of housing, homelessness, and opioid addiction—all affecting many of our cities here in Ontario. But the overall message of the film did not inflict that same disheartening feeling. It rather satisfied the viewer with a hopeful invitation to give vulnerable people an opportunity to thrive as worthy individuals.
When Butler first embarked on the project, it started out as a promotional video by Indwell. After listening to stories by some of the Indwell residents, however, Butler knew that these issues deserved to be put in a larger spotlight.
In an effort to answer the question of where these problems emerge, Safe provided a compelling argument that the problems are most often linked to affordable housing. “All the roots stem back to a lack of housing,” according to an Indwell tenant.
“Health gains won’t come with people who are unhoused,” said one Indwell employee in Safe. “Housing with wrap-around care is needed.”
The documentary features Indwell residents explaining how the organization became a life-changing path toward stability and safety. “I’ve never been this well. I’ve never been this stable. I’ve never had a better diet,” said one Indwell resident in the documentary. Indwell not only provides essential needs, they offer a strong sense of connection and community.
Butler undoubtedly excelled in his videography for Safe. With the authentic shots of residents in their daily activities and the use of both marginalized voices and experienced opinions, the viewer was made aware of the serious problems that permeate our society.
Additionally, the documentary sparked a desire for change. It did not reduce the problems of social injustice to either side of the left-right political binary. Indwell’s encouragement was neither guilt-inducing nor short-sighted in proposing simple solutions for complex problems. The presentation of pain and desperation among vulnerable individuals was vivid in the documentary, but the viewer still walked away with a message of hope.
Any viewer of Safe will notice a persistent theme concerning dignity, as Butler uniquely recognized that a loss of dignity arises from a lack of housing. As one resident put it, “The Bible says—well, it says a lot of stuff—but it says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and God is a good, gracious God.” It is these reminders in Scripture that bolster Indwell’s pursuit of giving their residents the ability to pursue their passions and find their worth as God’s created beings. The goal of Indwell’s work is not just ensuring that marginalized people are surviving but that they are thriving.
The ending of the documentary was especially unique. One of the residents talked about riding his trike, which gives him a feeling of hope and happiness. Butler then asked him if he could film him while he rides it. After agreeing, Butler filmed him walking to one of the sheds, pulling out his trike, and riding it along the streets of downtown Hamilton, filled with feelings of excitement and joy. The scenes of the resident riding his trike, the omission of dialogue, and the gentle music within the final scenes of the documentary contributed to a perfect ending, as it shows authenticity, hope, and joy.
Safe thrived in its ability to highlight human dignity, even among those who struggle to find it. It provided a compelling reminder that the Kingdom of God will not be built around the admirable leaders, celebrities, and heroes of our day. Instead, when Christ returns, we will see the lowly individuals brought higher than they ever were during their life on earth.
If you are interested in watching the documentary, Indwell will be screening it again on the evening of March 13 at St. Thomas, followed by a screening at Chatham-Kent on March 28. Indwell has also coordinated with our community engagement facilitator Joel Naves in collecting towels and sheets through a clothing drive. The bin is located outside the Student Senate office if you wish to donate.