About Inn From The Cold

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looks like we'll be able to open again soon

Weather forecast is calling for a change to colder weather for the next couple of days, so it looks like we'll open the shelter tomorrow night (Wed night) and likely stay open for 2 or 3 nights.  

One complication is that there's a blood donor clinic at St Alban Thursday and Friday this week.  They leave their equipment set up overnight, so we'll have to workaround them.   Makes for a great time to come by the shelter, to give blood or to give some time to volunteer.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Plan to Make Homelessness history

Today's New York Times had an interesting article recently entitled "A Plan to make Homelessness History" http://nyti.ms/dKCyna   Worth a read.  It refers to a program in the US called "100,000 Homes" which has a goal of placing 100,000 chronically homeless people into permanent supportive housing by July 2013.  They started less than 6 months ago and have placed almost 7,000 already, on track for 100,000 by 2013.  The article reports that when cities decide to make a concerted effort to reduce homelessness, they succeed.  

Large cities like New York and LA are on board as are smaller ones like Norfolk VA (population 230,000) and Wichita Kansas, that aren't much bigger than Richmond.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Very cold today, but still not quite enough to open. Hoping for tomorrow.

Today's combination of rain, wind and low temps made for very miserable weather.  I was out in it for a few hours today -- running errands on my bike and walking -- and it definitely felt bitterly cold, but unfortunately, to declare an Extreme Weather Alert we can't rely on how cold it feels, we have to base it on information available from weather agencies.  We mainly use three sources: Environment Canada, the Weather Network (localized for Richmond) and a private forecasting service the city has under contract for the winter that provides us with a customized forecast for Richmond daily.  None are predicting temperatures to go below freezing tonight, so we're not opening.

While I was out doing my errands, I bumped into a couple men near one of the bottle depots who have stayed at the shelter and I told them we wouldn't be open tonight, but possibly tomorrow. One had lost the gloves we'd given him a couple weeks ago, so I went over to St Alban to get him another pair and brought back a bag full of gloves, scarves, toques in case I ran into more people who could use them. Sure enough, when I returned, there were two women hanging around outside the depot -- neither of whom I'd met before. They were friends of the men who'd stayed with us (both men had now vanished).  One woman  gratefully accepted a scarf, toque and gloves -- she was only wearing a hooded coat for protection from the weather -- and told me she'd be spending the night with her sister.   The other women had stayed at the shelter last year, but had a place to live now in Vancouver. 

I eventually caught up with the two guys who've been staying with us, just across the street from the depot, at a place they often spend the night called "the concrete jungle."  It's fairly well protected from the elements -- concrete roof,  concrete on three sides and big garbage bins on the fourth side -- they had a small fire going and they had large duvets nearby that we'd handed out when they last left.   The gloves fit and when I left, they looked like they'll be okay for another night out in the cold.

Hopefully, we'll open tomorrow night.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Still not quite cold enough to open

The weather has been flirting with sub-zero recently, but not quite enough  to declare an extreme weather alert.  We monitor the various weather forecasts at least daily and update our hotline accordingly.

In the meantime, activities at and around the shelter continue.   Last night was the third and final gift bag decorating session, held in the lounge at St Alban.   The bags have made their appearance at two venues so far and this Sunday will be at St Joseph The Worker parish.   They've help raise hundreds of dollars so far.  We've also added pictures of the bags to the "Donate" portion of the website, allowing people to receive these special thank-yous if  they donate in person at the shelter.  If anyone would like to host a small fundraising session, based on these bags, just reply back to this email.  You'll get a small kit with a set of bags, a couple signs to post and a sheet to record names for tax receipts.  

People have also been working in the background gathering donations of goods or money from organizations (such as Starbucks) and co-workers (such as Richmond Public Health, where a siimple note resulted in a coffee can full of cash donations).   

We've also taken the opportunity to do some training.  Last Saturday, five staff and volunteers attended a Level 1 Foodsafe course at Gilmore United.   Gilmore United host another weekly community meal here in Richmond and they delivered the course to their own volunteers, opening up a few spaces for us.    And this  past Monday evening, Warren from our shelter committee provided basic  first aid training to our overnight staff.  He geared the trianing specifically to the types of situations we are most likely to encounter.    Both courses were excellent.

People have been asking about what's happening at the shelter for Christmas.  Answer: if there's an extreme weather alert, we'll be open.  Otherwise, we won't be open.  We have been accumulating some small gifts for our guests (scarfs, underwear, sox) in anticipation that we might open.  (And Barry has a frozen turkey ready).    If we don't open right at Christmas, we'll have the turkey and give the gifts at the next available opportunity.    If anyone would like to source or offer up some small gift items (lighters, chocolate, etc) reply back and we'll arrange drop off or pickup.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Inn From The Cold -- closing until the cold weather returns

The Shelter will be closed until further notice.  We're into a warm spell and today the city deactivated its extreme weather alert, so the posters have come down, the sign in front of the church has been cleared off, the food put away, etc.

During this last activation period, we were open two nights and welcomed 9 different guests: 5 the first night and 7 last night.    All were familiar faces from the first activation period.   We handed out the "comfort coats" Cecilia received from the organization in White Rock (partially sponsored by the Knights of Columbus).  These are amazing coats -- very roomy and warm parkas that convert into a sleeping bags by attaching the carrying bag made of the same parka material.  Very practical and will really help people get through the cold spells that the shelter isn't open.   We handed out two pairs of great boots donated by Turning Point Recovery (the group who attempted to open a second recovery facility in Richmond but weren't allowed).

We offered up Christmas cards to people to send off, but as far as I know, no one took advantage of it.   Some people have lost contact with their loved ones (including a couple who really want to reconnect, but don't have an address).   Others didn't seem to be in the frame of mind.  They know the cards are available and some may still take advantage of them.

The shelter hotline we set up is a hit (phone # 604-367-0885). Several folks have access to phones and call to check status.  

Thanks to Richard, Stella, Vic, Jan, Trevor, John, Gerry, Gracey, Margaret, Dianne, Ofra, Norm, Joan, Christi, Jean, Cecilia, Janet, Kay, Harry, June, Jennifer for coming out to prepare and serve meals on very short notice, to set up the mats, to put up the sign in front of the church, to decorate gift bags, to staff the booth at the Fair Trade Fair and to all those who helped behind the scenes and offered to come in but the shelter didn't open during your shift.  And all this in the last 4 days.  You are all a very special group of people. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Last minute decision to open the shelter tonight

Like our guests, the shelter is at the mercy of the weather. In our case, the shelter only opens for the night when the city of Richmond issues an Extreme Weather Alert. The decision to issue the alert is made at 10 a.m. each day and is based on the weather forecast for that night. There are four criteria that can activate an alert, including the temperature at -2 or less. Yesterday (Friday), at 10 a.m. the forecast was for a low of zero overnight. So no alert was issued. However, as night fell, the temperature plummeted and when I woke up this morning, frost covered the ground and the temperature was -3. So, the forecast was wrong and several people had to spend a very cold night.

This morning, the forecast was also for zero degrees, so again at 10 no alert issued. However, by 3 pm, the forecast for overnight temperature had been modified to -2, so we decided to open. Fortunately, the Richmond Extreme Weather official had given me her cell phone number for just this purpose so I was able to reach her (in the middle of her putting up Christmas lights on her home) and within minutes the official alert had been issued to the RCMP, ambulance services etc.

Next, we had to call in staff and volunteers and more importantly get the word out to the homeless in the area that the shelter would be open. Jan and I drove around to a few known locations including 3 bottle depots where we posted signs and in the process met up with three people who had stayed at the shelter during the last cold snap, and gave them the news directly. Word spread and four people were there in time to enjoy a nice spaghetti dinner, including one with the word that two more were on their way.

All's well that ends well.

Five volunteers helped open the shelter, then cooked up a fine spaghetti dinner

Gift of Warmth

Thursday, an enthusiastic crew decorated gift bags with ribbon, used wrapping paper, used Christmas cards, sparkles and glitter.   Net proceeds will give warmth to a person who is homeless."  The bags come in three sizes and are given to those who make a donation of $10, 15, or 25 to the Shelter.  Each bag comes with an Inn From The Cold tag that reads: " Thanks for your Gift of Warmth.  A charitable receipt is also provided.

The bags made their debut at today's  Fair Trade Fair at St Alban.  Shelter volunteers were on hand to answer questions. The bags proved to be very popular, raising over $250 for the shelter.

There are still some bags available, and another bag decorating evening is planned.  If anyone would like to offer the bags to friends, family or at an event or meeting, just contact us at InnFromTheColdRichmond@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Decorating gift bags tonight (Thursday 2 Dec at St Alban)

Message from Cecilia, who is our Committee co-chair, head of food committee and helping with fundraising:

"It is a busy time of year but there may be a few of you (at least 10) I hope who would be able to come out tonight, Dec 2nd , at 7 pm to decorate dollar store gift bags with ribbon, used wrapping paper, used Christmas cards, sparkles, glitter, etc (according to each creative imagination).

We would like to offer these to persons who would give a donation of $10, 15, or 25 to the Shelter fund raiser. I will purchase small, medium and large bags from the dollar store.

Please bring scissors, glue, ribbon, decorating essentials, etc

Does someone know the manager at the Richmond Mall whom I would contact to ask if we could set up a table there. Others possibilities are at churches, community centers, friends, etc.

Victor will make us a tag with
Inn from the Cold
Richmond Extreme Weather Shelter on one side

and on the other
Thanks for your "Gift of Warmth"
Net proceeds will give warmth
to a person who is homeless

See you at St Albans at 7 pm"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gearing up to open again-- maybe Friday night??

The weather has been relatively mild recently (with some big dumps of rain) but the forecasts are saying temperatures will dip below zero on the weekend. As always, we'll make a final decision each morning by 10 a.m. to open or not. But we try to make the decision the evening before to allow time to mobilize the volunteers and staff.

At last night's community meal at St Alban, four of our shelter guests from last week were in attendance. They are hoping for cooler weather so we can open. Hugh, one of our overnight shelter staff also volunteers at the community meal and he noted that the footwear of these four guys was really lacking, so he's taking the initiative to find them good boots.

If anyone has a lead on where we can get free or very discounted boots for some needy people, please let us know.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shelter closed tonight after 8 nights

The shelter is closed tonight and will likely remain closed until further notice. We'll open again once another weather alert is issued (various criteria are used to determine this: -2 C or heavy snow or very windy and sub zero etc). Seven shelters were closed last night across the lower mainland, and most will likely be closed tonight.

Eight people last night, including 1 new man.

Weather has warmed up and the snowperson one of the guests made on the lawn is melting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sharing the space and sweets with the NDP and sweet sounds in the morning

We will open tonight. Iffy for tomorrow. Still looking for volunteers for breakfast tomorrow morning. Call Norm if available. Note that new people are welcome, and you'll be trained on the job.

Tonight we'll be sharing the space with a large NDP meeting who will be in the main hall from 5-10. They are only serving desserts so the kitchen and lounge are available.

All men last night, the one young woman who's been staying there for the last few days didn't return, but I learned this morning that she is safe and sound.

Jean M, who lives just steps away from the shelter, comes by almost every evening and morning to spend time chatting with the guests. Her specialty is waking them up gently. This morning, she brought in her flute and piccolo and they were gently roused by those sweet sounds -- another magical moment.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Number of guests down on cheque day

Nine people Wed night, seven last night, seven so far tonight.  Drop in numbers likely due to yesterday being "cheque day", when people on social assistance receive their monthly cheques, opening up more options for them.     Our guests continue to show their gratitude.  Each of the last two evenings, someone's arrived early and helped set up the mats and chairs, another has offered to paint the shed that's used to lock up their bikes and carts and tonight one fellow brought in a big bag of chips for everyone.  Cribbage has become a popular evening activity -- one man made a crib board out of cardboard Wednesday night, using pushpins as markers -- it looks amazing and we'll keep it, and we now also have a regular wooden board with pegs.  Listening to hockey on the radio, reading the paper, having someone there just to talk to are also real treats.

Hand made cribbage board out of shoe box.

The food has been amazing thanks to over 30 different volunteers showing up early in the morning, staying late at night or cooking up food at home and bringing it in.

With this warming trend, we expect to close in the next day or so.   When we do, we'll send our guests off with a full belly, and they'll return to the places they normally spend the night: tents in parks, abandoned buildings, campers, under bridges.  I've visited a some of these places in the past few days and the thought of these fine people we've come to know sleeping in these hovels brought me to tears.

We'll decide tomorrow (Friday) morning at 7 whether or not the weather conditions allow us to open up another night.   

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Community Responds to the call for donations

Nine people last night, ten the previous.   One woman each of the two nights.

Full slate of volunteers now lined up for the kitchen till Thursday morning (thanks!), so in good shape for next couple days.   In Richmond, we make a decision to open on a day-to-day basis, but looking ahead, Friday seems like it's going to be warming up.  Four of the Lower Mainland shelters have already said they are closing Friday, but most are continuing day-to-day.  And one shelter opened today for the first time (they didn't open at all last year).

The food continues to be a big hit.  The atmosphere in the shelter last night was wonderful -- socializing, laughter, people gathered around a giant chess board Norm had set up.

Tonight, we have the weekly St Alban Community Meal at 5 and we have encouraged all guests to attend that. It'll be nice to get into a warm place before the shelter opens.

We've had a great response from the community (there was an article on the front page of last Friday's Richmond News, including a photo of our training session) and a steady stream of warm clothing is coming through the front door.   We also purchased things like new underwear, socks, long underwear and good winter gloves.   We open up our clothing supply to the guests each morning before they leave --  they are delighted with the selection of donated jackets, toques, scarves etc and the new clothes are a special treat.

Many people brought donations of clothing for the homeless.  Thank you, Richmond

We've also had lots of food donated, to the extent that we're suggesting everyone take their food to the foodbank.  Our cupboards, fridge and feezer are full!

We've had a few glitches, which is expected.  For example, last night as I was leaving,  my key ring collapsed spilling my shelter keys  to the ground. I thought I'd picked them all up, but it was cold and dark and I didn't realize till I arrived this morning that I was missing one of them.    I looked outside but couldn't find it.   A few hours later, one of the men who'd stayed with us Sat. night walked through the door with a homeless friend, asking if we had any clothes for his friend.    I gladly obliged.  Then he said: "did anyone lose this key?"  Good things are happening.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The first couple of nights

The shelter opened Friday night and will remain open until we get some warm weather: probably Wednesday or later.   We welcomed 3 guests Friday night and 4 last night.   As word of the opening spreads, we expect this number to increase.   Our guests are very grateful for the hot meals, hospitality, new clothes and a warm place to sleep.    We have extended our opening hours -- it's now open from 7 pm to 8 am (rather than closing at 7 am) so it's a little warmer when they venture out and a little nearer to the time when warm public places like the library open up.

The cold weather hit us a little early this year, but thanks to your efforts  we were ready.    The community at large is also responding -- we've received donations of clothing and food and our supplies are in good shape for the next while.

A big thanks to all of you for your kindness and dedication. You are making a difference in the lives of some very fine people.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Opening Night at the Shelter

We opened our doors at 7 pm but already there were a few people who arrived early.  We had several volunteers this first night, including a few from last year which was great.   A great meal of hearty soup, buns, spaghetti and salad was served up.  

Only three guests this first night, but it will get busier as the word spreads and the temperature drops.

We had a big snowfall overnight and the background image for this website was taken just before dawn on the Saturday morning.  And this image shows the footprints and bicycle tracks left behind by the three guests as they left around 8 a.m.

Special thanks to Zac and Nicole, who showed up to lend a hand.  Both are on the Extreme Weather Shelter Committee (Zac's the volunteer coordinator, Nicole does liaison with the parish and a key member of the committee who hired staff this year).   Both are excellent people who kindly passed on their wisdom from last year and, sadly,  they are moving to Vancouver Island in a few short days.  You will be missed!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Extreme Weather Alert issued. Outreach begins.

Lennie from Salvation Army's Richmond House Emergency Shelter calls and says he'd like to open up.  I agree.  Lennie calls Richmond Emergency services, who issue the official alert by 10 a.m., emailing, faxing and phoning dozens of agencies in Richmond and the Lower Mainland.

Bottle depot.  Poster visible in bottom right corner of window.
Zac and I head out to do some outreach, trying to spread the word that the shelter is open for the first time this season.  We visit two bottle depots (No 2 and Blundell and near Save On Foods - No 3 and Westminster Hwy). Collecting bottles is a popular source of cash for the homeless.  Neither have the shelter poster displayed, but both agree to post the ones we've brought with us.  

Next we check the library, a popular spot to stay warm, to read and use the internet. I'm delighted to see the poster is already in the windows of the main door.

Library at Brighouse - Extreme Weather Shelter poster in window
Finally, we check the three "secret places" Ben showed Zac the night before.  Each has a street name: "underground", "cubby holes", "concrete jungle".  They are places where you can spend a few hours partially protected from the weather, and partially hidden from sight.   Signs of habitation at the "underground" -- a shopping cart, some cardboard used as a mattress.   Cubby Holes also has some belongings, but no people.   Finally, at Concrete Jungle, we we find Ben and CB, about to be hustled away by a security guard.  They are very pleased to hear the shelter will open tonight, we shake hands and bid them farewell.  Only Ben shows up at the shelter that night.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Freezing Weather forecast

It's Thursday evening, time for our weekly Extreme Weather Committee meeting.  Freezing weather is forecast and the main topic in tonight's meeting is readiness to open.  While we are meeting, a homeless man comes to the door, "Ben", hoping the shelter is open tonight. Zac, our volunteer coordinator knows him from last year and learns there are up to eight homeless people in the vicinity hoping the shelter's open.   He takes a thermos of hot chocolate and goes with Ben to take the hot drink to his buddies.

NOTE: all names of homeless people are pseudonyms.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shelter Training

Saturday, Nov 13, sixty volunteers, staff and committee members attended a shelter training session with Peter Fedos from Hyland House emergency shelter in Surrey.  Peter drew on his years of experience in shelters as well as the experience of people in the room.    

Peter  also led us in an exercise about private space and boundaries.   

The training session was held in the main hall of St Alban, the same space where the guests have their meals and bed down when the shelter is open.  No one had any idea the shelter would be open 6 days later.