The 1950s marked the beginning of community service activities and recreational programs occurring in the basement of Wesley United Church at the corner of Rebecca and John Street in the heart of Hamilton’s downtown. In 1955, United Church members began an outreach program, including a Sunday afternoon tea, for elderly individuals living in poverty. These church volunteers and donors were the passion behind the programming, moved by the need for such services and a genuine desire to learn from and help those most marginalized. In the early 60s, these operations became a major focus for outreach work within the United Church’s Hamilton Presbytery. In 1964, the local Mission Council formalized this outreach with the first Wesley Board of Directors and a mandate to serve those facing poverty in the inner city.
Momentum gained as Wesley’s programs expanded into a wide range of services for all people, young and old, who were struggling under the burden of poverty. In the late 60s, Wesley’s programs were well underway including a club for seniors and transient men, a recreational drop in and tutoring program for hard-to-reach youth, a used clothing depot, a mother’s club, and Christmas celebrations. A community meal was also served after the weekly church service, and area church groups began signing up to prepare and serve meals on Sunday.
In the mid 70s, visionary leaders within the United Church’s Hamilton Presbytery came together to determine Wesley’s role and future concerning mission work in Hamilton’s downtown core. As a result, Wesley Urban Ministries became an incorporated body in 1979. In 1981, Wesley expanded community programming into a second downtown neighbourhood location. As the Wesley United Church facility was steadily declining, the challenge remained to find a new location for Wesley’s expanding programs for the homeless. After a temporary two year stay in a downtown United Church’s basement, Wesley found a new home at 129 Rebecca Street in 1984.
Partnerships between Wesley and other groups and organizations flourished from the mid 80s onward. Wesley collaborated with many different community agencies and government bodies and became further involved in the areas of health, housing, language, literacy, settlement, and recreation. In 1990, Wesley moved into a third location in Hamilton’s north end, responding to the needs of people in the neighbourhood who were financially or otherwise marginalized. Strategic fundraising became a focus in the 90s, as the demand for Wesley’s services placed a higher demand on Wesley’s resources. In 1992 and 1993, Wesley began two major annual fundraising events, Case for Kids Walk, Run, Ride and Wesley Open Golf Tournament. By the late 90s, Wesley’s community partnerships had formed Hamilton’s first downtown health centre, a full community centre in the north end, and the creation of affordable housing.
Wesley’s programs had again outgrown its existing location and in 1996, moved to 195 Ferguson Avenue North. This new location included a Wesley housing project to respond to the needs of Hamilton’s hardest to house. Just four years later, Wesley announced Hamilton’s first and only 24-hour emergency services drop in and shelter with on-site resources to help people realize long-term solutions to homelessness. Wesley also expanded its programming for street involved youth, children and families in need, and employment supports. By 2005, Wesley was operating over a dozen programs from six locations with the mission to decrease barriers and increase opportunities. During this time, Wesley also changed their logo to the simple yet bold and optimistic orange design.
2005 – Present
Wesley Urban Ministries’ programs today continue to meet the mission of decreasing barriers and increasing opportunities for those in need in downtown Hamilton, supported by churches, businesses, individuals and community partners. Wesley continues many of the programs from its early years, such as Sunday meal program, recreational programs for youth and adults, and a Christmas program. Wesley provides significant programming for children, youth and families in low income neighbourhoods, including a transitional housing program for homeless youth that opened in 2007. With more adults moving into their own housing with Wesley staff support and living in Wesley’s special care unit, the overnight shelter returned in 2010 to a day program with meals and supports. In 2011, Wesley responded to community needs and began providing support to government sponsored refugees. With over 30 different programs in 9 locations, Wesley’s diverse programs continue to work towards a vision of social justice where all have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.