Shea Kiely: Building Community from Breakfast to Haircuts


By Janet Allingham RN

When you ask Shea Kiely about the importance of having a place to call “home” she offers a concise answer: “Prevention is better than cure.” This says a lot about the Executive Director of St. Luke’s Table, a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, located in the basement of St. Luke’s Church, at the corners of Bell and Somerset West. Shea also says that “home” for her is a place that’s calm, clean, and safe, where you can feel at ease and comfortable.

The Table, as it’s known, strives to offer a sense of community to about 200 visitors per day. As a former recreation therapist, Shea knows how important this is. With a small staff of 6 (assisted by over 45 volunteers), she oversees day-to-day operations, the budget, human resources, fundraising, and strategic planning. There are specific services and activities each week: a bike clinic, sewing service, mental health counselling, a writing group, haircutting, help with housing, and referrals to other service agencies.  A light breakfast offered in the morning is followed by a full course hot lunch at noon. Success, according to Shea, can be measured by the number of people who come back to The Table. Over 55,000 visits per year says that The Table must be doing something right.

Is it possible to solve the problem of homelessness? Shea says that some people feel it’s better to be homeless because support services are more accessible.  She adds, however, that she has seen improvements over the years, and there are, for example, fewer people living on the street. However, “couch surfers” and people who live in rooming houses are still at risk and waiting lists for even substandard housing are long. Shea is frustrated when she finds out that people are using their ODSP or OAS to pay for substandard housing. “It’s not a good way to spend money,” she says.

Shea has an important response for those who say homeless people should just get a job and find a place to live: “Society should be less judgmental. When many highly educated people can’t find work, it’s even harder for those who haven’t had educational opportunities.”