There were moments of tears, prayers and song as clients, volunteers and staff said goodbye to the Victoria Avenue location of the Downtown Mission Friday.
"It's hard to say goodbye, but it also gives us the opportunity to look forward to what's next," said executive director Rukshini Ponniah-Goulin during a decommissioning ceremony. "It's time to look back and see what we've done in this place we've called home."
The mission has been at 664 Victoria Ave. for 20 years after moving from the original location at the corner of Wyandotte Street West and Victoria Avenue, which is the former Volcano Restaurant.
The Victoria Avenue location will continue to offer meals until mid-week next week. Then the mission will relocate to 875 Ouellette Ave. where the shelter and wellness centre are located. Ponniah-Goulin said there will be no reduction in services during the move.
Volunteer Jonathan Bruneo said it was a sad day, but the mission is "turning a corner" to newer facilities. He said the mission has been a home for the homeless.
"There are many services here. There are supports, counselling, nurses here, so it's a way for them to call this a home," said Bruneo. He recalled a man who'd been homeless and come through the mission who'd later "turned his life around" through the support he'd received there.
Breanna Pomeroy, who has been experiencing homelessness for the past year, has relied on the mission.
"The meals are great and they bring us together to make us feel blessed for the day. I met the father of my child here," said Pomeroy, who also likes the women's recovery group for substance abuse. "I give it a 10 out of 10. It actually is a lifeline."
Pomeroy recalled reading a quote on the wall of the mission building that said, "How do we save the real world if we are the synthetic race now - Universe."
"I seen it one time when I was sad and it enlightened me and made me feel better," she said.
"I was feeling hopeless, kind of suicidal and I read the quote and I was like — wow!. That's pretty prophetic. I wonder how I can continue to discover my real world and stop lingering in pain."
The mission was poised to move to the former downtown library, but that deal folded. Then there was a plan to move to another property, but that deal also fell through.
Once the mission moves, the building will be used as a Media Arts Community Centre by the Windsor Centre for Film and Digital Media.
There will be programs for all ages, and the centre hopes to start some programming over the summer.