About Inn From The Cold

Thursday, December 29, 2011

One foot in the hospital

The shelter has been closed right through the Christmas season, due to the weather being not quite extreme enough.  Volunteers and staff had stepped forward beforehand offering to be available for shifts Christmas Eve and Christmas day which was heartening.  So we were ready.  I've been out and about in Richmond almost every day we've been closed and am surprised that I've only encountered two people from the shelter.   Both were in a warm dry place over Christmas: the hospital.

"Bud" and "Dave" have a lot in common, aside from sharing a roof over Christmas. They aren't buddies but they know each other from the streets.  Both are over fifty and have spent too many of those years abusing alcohol, living the very rough life of a person with no home, broken relationships and ill health.

Beer is their drink of choice and both go for the extra strength (7+% alcohol) varieties, "Bud" choosing a US brand and "Dave" one from Europe.   Dave usually keeps an open one in the bottle holder of his bike and sips on it while pedalling the streets in search of empties.   Bud keeps his supply in his shopping cart, but his cart mostly contains the empties from what he's consumed.  He told us recently he's trying to cut back on his beer consumption, saying he's down from 48 cans per day to 8 cans per day.

Neither is immediately endearing.  Bud's a large, rough-featured man, often teetering on the edge of consciousness and barely coherent, so people tend to be intimidated by him.  He's not welcome many places and his standard parting words are "sorry for the hassle" but he's never been a hassle at the shelter.   He most often sits quietly at a table or crashed out on a mat.  Dave's also not welcome many places.   He comes across as an ornery, foul-mouthed, in-your-face kind of guy.  Despite the rough exteriors and scarred interiors, both are gentle souls, who like to laugh and spend time with a fellow human being.

Bud and Dave were hospitalized a few times this year.  Dave was hit by a car while riding his bike and Bud while pushing his cart along the side of a road, twice. Both were also hospitalized for several months this year with long term illnesses.   In Bud's case, he had checked into Vancouver detox (there are no detox facilities in Richmond) last January but after a short time he was transferred to St Paul's where he spent several months and apparently was diagnosed with a serious illness of the brain associated with alcohol abuse.  We heard he was wait-listed for long term care then, for reasons unclear, he ended up back on the streets of Richmond, back drinking again.   He seems to be in a perpetual state of impairment, perhaps the beer, perhaps brain damage.

Bud stayed with us a couple nights again this season and we learned he'd rented a room in a house in Richmond, but he has a hard time locating it.  The police drove him round and round one night looking for it but they couldn't find it.   When I bumped into him a few days ago, he remembered the street name  and knows roughly where it is, but it's such a long walk from where he spends his days that he sometimes just bunks down wherever -- in a covered doorway or sharing a public washroom with another man who calls that place home each night.  He was hit by the second vehicle just last week and that landed him in hospital for Christmas.

Dave's been in the hospital since August after a collapse.  He's looking better but still unable to walk and needs to be lifted in and out of a wheelchair.  I can't imagine him returning to the streets -- he looks so frail.  Fortunately, he's wait-listed for a long term care facility in Richmond.  A previous time when I visited, I asked if there was anything I could get him.   He was very specific with his request: a 3-bladed razor, a large pair of nail clippers and Q-tips and he even gave me directions to the best dollar store to buy them.  I was glad he didn't ask for beer.

 He's feeling relatively wealthy now as his outreach worker is saving up his CPP cheques for him while he's in the hospital and he received $200 cash for his bike from Cap's cycles.  They were storing it for him while in hospital, but sold it after it became clear he probably wouldn't be riding again.  They even brought the money to the hospital for him. Dave's a good customer of Cap's and they treat him well.  He went through 3 bikes this year -- the first was damaged when he got hit by a car.  Cap's repaired his bike for him, knowing Dave couldn't pay them right away, but he did pay once he collected on his ICBC injury claim from the accident.   That repaired bike got stolen, and the replacement bike was stolen as well.

The only thing Dave's purchased so far with his loot is a pack of cigarettes, but he hasn't smoked one yet because he doesn't have warm clothes he can wear in the outside smoking area.   When I visited him last week to bring him his reactivated cell phone, I asked again if he needed anything and this time he asked for some warm clothes for the outside smoking area and, in a hushed voice, a mickey. I told him I couldn't bring him a mickey and he didn't try to push me.   I was hoping a few months of sobriety might have built up some strength to resist the drink.  Then again, maybe it has.  He's holding a pack of cigarettes and hasn't yet smoked.  So maybe he'd resist the booze as well.  Or maybe a wee dram now and again wouldn't be so harmful for someone in long term care.  Who am I to judge?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

We are the 99%

In a previous post, I mentioned that we'd donated our extra mats to the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre on Cordova who were short of mats this winter.   I volunteer in the Downtown Eastside every Friday (at The Listening Post), so it was pretty easy to deliver to a very deserving organization, in one of the neediest locations in Canada.

Exactly one week later, I was back in this same area, this time picking up donations for Richmond shelters, from Lotus Light Charity Society located in a Buddhist temple on E. Hastings.   Lotus Light have an annual Winter Charity Drive and distribute sleeping bags, food and socks etc to the needy.   It felt a bit strange to be picking up these things from the Downtown Eastside for delivery to Richmond and I asked Sean, the monk coordinating the charity drive, why they'd chosen Richmond.  He explained that they used to just distribute only in the DTES, but they realized the needs were wider so they extended their gifts to Greater Vancouver.  Sean himself lives in Richmond and most days he sees a man sitting at the entrance to the Brighouse Canada Line station asking for a handout, so perhaps that was the seed that eventually led to this gift to Richmond.

Driving home in a car crammed with 15 sleeping bags, 90 giant bottles of shampoo, dozens of bags of cookies and dill-flavoured Crispers, boxes of toothpaste, clothing, bottled water etc, I got to thinking about "Roy", who's one of the regular panhandlers at Brighouse station.  He stayed with us a couple nights last year and I've talked to him several times on the streets.    Most people walk by panhandlers like Roy, ignoring them.  A few say hello.  Others struggle with the dilemma of whether they should offer cash or not, worrying about how it might be spent.  Enough do give that, after a few hours of work, as he calls it, he has enough money to buy some fried chicken at a nearby greasy spoon and/or beer at the liquor store.

The daily presence of panhandlers in downtown Richmond (and the ongoing existence of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver) is a thorn in the side of some, an embarrassment; ignored or despised by others, but it does serve as a constant reminder of the work that remains to be done.  

This brings to mind the occupy movement with their "We are the 99%" slogan, i.e. we are the 99% of the planet vs. the 1% who hold a disproportionate percentage of the wealth.  What injustice.

But if we turn this 1% vs 99% model on its head and look at the bottom 1% vs the top 99%, we get a different perspective on us vs them.  In this model, the 1% are the poorest in our community, people like Roy and people living on the margins with very low incomes.   And the constant presence of panhandlers on that little piece of sidewalk outside Brighouse station can be viewed as their "Occupy Brighouse sidewalk" serves as a peaceful protest of the injustices in our community.

Now "We are the 99%" has a different meaning.  Now, we -- the 99%--  are the ones with the wealth and the power, the people who can make a difference.   You'd think solving the problem of the poorest 1% would be easier than the problems associated with the richest 1%, but we'll see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where are they now?

We've been open 4 nights so far this second activation of the season and we'll be open again tonight.  I'm particularly grateful that we're open tonight as tonight is the St Alban Community meal night so it's always wonderful to be able to allow people to sleep over after enjoying a meal.  Tonight is our Christmas dinner, with Santa and the works and the last Community Meal for 3 weeks, so will be extra special.

We had 8 people stay at the shelter last night (all men), 7 the night before and 6 the previous two nights.   Twelve different individuals have stayed with us so far this season, all men, and only 3 of them had stayed with us last year.  So lots of new faces, new stories and after a short period of adjustment by all, we've settled into a community again and it feels great.  I'll provide some updates on our new guests shortly.  In the meantime, since we saw 37 different folks last season, you may be wondering where are the other 34?

Well, many are unaccounted for, but here's an update on some we know about: 

"Dave" who celebrated his 60th birthday with us last winter, is in Richmond hospital, after collapsing in August.  He's still quite weak and unable to walk due to swelling in his legs.  He's in good spirits, in no pain and says the food is good.  He's waitlisted for a long term care facility in Vancouver.   Seeing him now lying in his hospital bed, it's hard to imagine this same man spent most of the past few years riding his bike in search of bottles, with so much chronic pain, spending all those nights in an abandoned house.  I'm relieved to know he's being so well cared for now, but saddened by the fact that it took a near death incident for proper care to be provided.

"Wally" had found accomodation last winter in a rooming house in New West, found a job in his construction trade, but has fallen back on hard times.  He's currently staying in Richmond House (Salvation Army emergency shelter) and is on borrowed time as he's stayed beyond the normal 30 day maximum.

"Sonny" who had been living a very rough life, sleeping under concrete parking ramps and the like is thriving.   He's living in a parked motorhome in someone's driveway in Richmond.  He looks great.  His hands are clean (if you knew Sonny, this in itself is a miracle) and more importantly has been clean of substances for several months.

"Kip" who landed a job as a cook at Tim Horton's just at the end of the shelter season, moved into some accomodation in New West and we'd been seeing him pretty regularly at the Community Meal but haven't seen him since the summer break.

"Otto", the man with a car and a job but no gas for the car to get to work (we gave him a huge bag of empties to buy gas) is not doing very well.  I ran into him in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and he's lost pretty much everything.

Sadly, one of last winter's guests passed away this summer.  Mid 40s.  I don't know any details except it was sudden and tragic.  He only stayed with us a few nights, but he had a large, unforgettable personality.  He was a semi-regular at the Community Meal and his last meal with us was the last meal of the season.   That night, he dined outside with a couple others on the newly purchased picnic table.

"Dorothy"  dropped by the shelter for a coffee Sunday night.   She lived last winter in a permanently parked camper on the riverfront and joined us several nights when her propane ran out or it just got too cold to heat.  She was recently evicted by Vancouver Port Authority and is temporarily staying in a newer camper parked in the back driveway of a Richmond megahome, paying the owner $450 per month for the privilege.  She is looking for a better place to park her camper.

"Lance" was also evicted from a different camper parked in the same riverfront location.   His current whereabouts are unknown, but he now has a girlfriend and may be staying with her.  By the way, neither Dorothy nor Lance have a vehicle -- they get their campers repositioned by friends. 

"Roy" who stayed with us a couple nights last winter is in his regular spot in one of the city parks.  He's one of those folks who prefers the solitude of his own place rather than a shelter.  In Roy's case, his place is actually public property.  There was an article in the local paper about him living in this place, with a photo and description of its precise location and complaints from the users of that facility, but he's somehow managed to remain there. 

"Carl" is still in subsidized seniors housing in Burnaby and doing very well, hoping to return to Richmond one day when a spot opens up.  He occasionally joins us at the St Alban Community Meal and is trying to help his good friends "Will" and "Maurice" get accommodation.  Will and Maurice are 2 of our three returning regulars this year.  Will actually was placed in subsidized housing in Surrey last spring, but was evicted a couple months ago and is back in his tent in the same woods he and Carl spent last winter. Will and Maurice have a good lead on a suite in Richmond so let's hope that works out for them soon.  And I look forward to them appearing in the next "where are they now" list.

Friday, December 2, 2011

What's happening at the shelter?

It's cold out and the shelter's not open.  What's up?  

The temperature's been very close to meeting our criteria to declare an extreme weather alert, but not quite.   We do have the ability to stretch the criteria somewhat if we are aware of a big need on the streets, but we haven't seen this yet this winter.   Richmond House, the emergency shelter open year round reports minimal turnaways, so not a big demand there.   And during our 4 night activation a couple weeks ago, we saw 6 different individuals and only 3 of them stayed with us the last night we were open.     The temp dipped to -4 during that activation and hasn't hit -2 since.    With the latest forecast, there's a small chance we'll open as early as tomorrow (Sat) night and I'll be in contact with my counterpart at Richmond House each morning to make a decision based on the latest weather (and street) conditions.   I'll publish a new volunteer and staff schedule and send around an email as soon as we decide.  

Although our shelter isn't open tonight, a few of our extra mats will be put to good use.  I got a call from the Downtown Eastside Women's Center on Cordova who are short of mats and brought them a few of our extra mats today.  They are a 50 bed emergency shelter for women, open 365 days per year.  They've been operational for several years and been opening their doors at 11 pm.   This winter they are opening at 6 pm and the number of women staying with them has surged, so they need more mats.

Finally, the hall where our guests dine and sleep is going to be used for the annual St Alban Fair Trade Fair tomorrow, Sat 3 Dec, from 10 am to 2 pm. You might want to check it out.  More details here: http://www.bclocalnews.com/community/134783338.html  What's not mentioned is that the shelter will have an information table, with our fundraising team's gift bags on display offered to those who make a donation to the shelter.

Thanks again for being there for our shelter guests.  We'll be opening soon and it could be a long season.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Our first opening stretch of the season lasted four nights.  We'd had a pretty consistent core group of guests and it was starting to feel very comfortable and a bit like family.  On the last night we were open "Will" arrived later than normal telling us that his father had just passed away.  He'd learned this by seeing his father's obituary in the morning paper.  Like many of our guests, Will's estranged from his family.  Last season, we offered Christmas cards to our guests, saying they could fill them out and we'd mail them, but not one of them took us up on the offer.

People offered their condolences to Will, shaking his hand or giving him a hug.

In the obituary, Will saw his own name listed along with the names of his siblings and  relatives, some of whom he'd never met or heard of.  And he learned that his Dad had died just two days after Will's birthday.  I wondered if Will had thought of his Dad on his birthday, or if his Dad had thought of Will on his deathbed.

In the kitchen that evening, one of our new volunteers mentioned that she volunteers at BC Women's Hospital cuddling newborn babies.  She cuddles babies whose mothers are unable to cuddle them, often because they are active addicts.    I wondered if any of our guests started life without the warmth of a mother's love or how a loving, healing hug from a kind volunteer may have changed the course of their lives.

As I was leaving for home at the end of the evening, I saw in the rear-view mirror a figure running out from the shelter, waving his arms.  It was Will.  I stopped and we talked some more.  He told me that he'd read about his dad just before he attended Sunday service at his church.   The pastor learned of his loss and made an announcement to the congregation.   Afterwards, many people came up to him -- some he'd never met before -- to offer their condolences, shaking his hand or giving him a hug.  He was particularly moved by the hugs from children.   He said it felt very weird to be hugged by a child -- he said he almost felt like a Dad.  He almost felt like crying.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Season is underway

Quick update.  We've been open two nights now.  Three guests the first night.  Five the second.   All men.  Three are regulars from last year and two new fellows.   All are semi-regular guests at the St Alban Community meal, so St Alban is feeling a lot like home.

Food is going extremely well, thanks to Grace and all the volunteers: Shepherd's pie, turkey pot pie, roasted potatoes, delicious soup made from fresh tomatoes; pineapple upside down cake; pancakes, eggs, toast.  And Joanne and Mackenzie, yesterday's mother-daughter breakfast team, returned in the evening to drop off a fresh-baked  apple crisp.

Thanks to our clothing committee, we've handed out jackets, gloves, new socks and underwear.

So, some warmer, fuller gentleman are out and about in Richmond today, thanks to such a great bunch of volunteers and staff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weather, choices and gratitude

Frost on the rooftops the last couple of mornings.    Must have been very cold for those who are forced to sleep outside.  Last Thursday, I met two who camp out, on my way to get groceries.    "Maurice" and "Will" were regulars at the shelter last season and it's always a pleasure to see them.  Each were loaded down with bags of groceries they'd picked up at the food bank that morning.  They'd been carrying these bags around with them all day, and had spent the last while at McDonald's -- free coffees all last week --  and were now on their way to Gilmore United for the 5:30 community meal.

Like me, they are keen observers of the weather this time of year and know the criteria we use for opening the shelter.  Maurice quoted me the lows for the past two nights, then told me the forecasters are calling for a cold winter.  Like me, they were looking forward to the shelter being open again.    I told them we're ready to go and hoped we'll be able to open our doors real soon.

Maurice and Will were on foot and were a couple kilometres from Gilmore United and at least 5 km further to their camps, where they'd arrive tired and in complete darkness, but with full bellies and a good supply of food.

I thought a lot about Maurice and Will as I shopped, selecting produce from the abundance on display, then afterwards as I walked home to a warm house and loving family. I thought about how similar our needs are as humans: food, shelter, companionship, love; yet how different the choices available to us.

But what struck me most was that,  despite their poverty and limited choices, they have such a positive attitude and such gratefulness for what they do have.

None of us has any choice when it comes to the weather -- we all wake up to the same warm sunshine or cold pelting rain.  And none of us has any choice about who our parents are or what comes our way during our lives.  But we all have the same choices in how we react to these circumstances beyond our control.   We can choose to moan and complain or we can learn from people like Maurice and Will, that it's possible to choose acceptance and gratitude for what we do have today, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gearing up for the 2011/2012 season

Fall weather is upon us, a sure sign that colder, wetter winter weather is around the corner.    We will be operating the shelter again at St Alban, starting November 1st.

In preparation, we're hosting two information/orientation sessions for new and returning volunteers at St Alban, on the following dates:

Sun, 23 Oct 2 pm - 4 pm
Wed, 26 Oct 7 pm - 9 pm

All welcome. 

We'll provide information on homelessness in Richmond, how the shelter operates, go over the various volunteer opportunities and have plenty of time for Questions and Answers.

Both sessions are identical.  

Please RSVP indicating which session you'll attend by email to InnFromTheColdRichmond@gmail.com or by phone 604-315-5705.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Shelter closed tonight. Now what?

Shelter's main hall, uncharacteristically empty and filled with sunlight, just after we closed this morning.  At night, 16 sleeping mats are placed around the perimeter of the room.

The shelter is closed tonight, after 6 successive nights of offering shelter, food and warmth.    We ended with a bang, or rather a sparkler on top of a birthday cake for "Dave" who  turned 60 yesterday.  We'd made his favourite dish (Hungarian chicken parprikash) a couple nights earlier, not knowing if we'd be open on his birthday, but there was enough left over for him to enjoy again last night.

The weather has been so variable of late (and the forecasts have been changing regularly) that it's hard to predict when next we'll open.   Last time we closed (also on a Monday), we reopened the next night.   The Extreme Weather Shelter season ends March 31st, so that's the last possible day we'd be open until November.

We had a core group of 5 guests who stayed with us almost every night this time and six others who stayed for a night or 2 when the weather got really ugly.  We had a max. of 8 guests during this period.

It's always tough closing.  You naturally wonder  how our guests will fare.  The people who drop in for a night or 2 only when the weather's really extreme are clearly able to cope in all but the nastiest of weather.    The 5 regulars who are there night after night are also survivors and each has a spot (tent, camper, abandoned building) out of the weather, with sleeping bags (or "comfort coats" we handed out).    And social services has leads on housing for two of them: "Will" is visiting a potential apartment placement in Surrey Wednesday and Dave, at 60, is now eligible for seniors housing.  He  visited 5 places in Richmond last week with his worker, although there's one big barrier that needs to be removed, by him, before he'll be accepted.  

A huge draw for our regulars is the food and the social side of the shelter -- the warmth and camaraderie of fellow human beings -- and most of them would likely join us right through the summer if we were open.  So, the concern for their welfare is not so much their ability to cope with the weather, but how they'll fare with being less well fed, less accepted and more isolated.  Some of our guests are just down on their luck or between jobs and we hope they'll get a break and get their lives back together.  Some are suffering from mental illness and this is perhaps the toughest situation, but hopefully they have access to professional care and take advantage of organizations like Pathways Clubhouse in Richmond who provide a welcoming atmosphere, affordable food and programs for those with mental illnesses.  And the other main group consists of those stuck in their addictions and  perhaps the change in experiences they feel between the shelter being open and closed may help them realize they've got to make a change in themselves to be able to live the lives they deserve.    If closing a shelter has a silver lining, perhaps this is it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Breakfast time at the Inn

Breakfasts are a special time at the Inn. In contrast to dinner (where people arrive at various times throughout the night, some dead tired, some under the influence), at breakfast time, guests eat at pretty much the same time, are usually well rested (except last night we had a snorer), mellower and generally sober. We've recently started to use the round tables for meals -- more sociable than the very long table we've been using. Yesterday the five guests, 3 volunteers and 3 staff all fit around one table and enjoyed some nice conversation, ranging from favourite restaurants, to skydiving, to Dr Seuss titles and poetry.

The tone for the day had been set by Jean M, who played her flute as a wake up call. A couple nights earlier, "Marie" asked Jean if she'd play her flute and Jean agreed. The next evening when Marie arrived the first thing she mentioned was how much she was looking forward to hearing Jean play. She'd had a bad day - actually a string of bad days -- and was soon in tears telling her story: feeling used and betrayed by family and friends, making some wrong choices herself and just so tired of it all, but she also said how much better she felt at the shelter: so welcomed and safe and comfortable. Some nice women's clothing had been donated recently (thanks, Sylvie) and some almost new jackets by another person, and she chose ones she liked.  People who live on the margins "can't be choosers", i.e. they often don't get a lot of choice when it comes to clothing, food or shelter.  So, we go out of our way to offer them choices at the Inn.   They can be choosers.  At meal time we always ask if they'd like potatoes or vegetables or whatever, or how many pieces of toast would you like, etc.    A couple other people selected jackets, including "Will" who plans to only wear his new jacket to church on Sunday. He'll store it at his camp.

Some of our guests aren't used to eating with others or interacting with others, and tend to spend time on their own. I was glad to see everyone join the single table for breakfast that day, especially one fellow who's particularly quiet. When the conversation turned to books, he started to chime in as this is his favourite passtime. Someone mentioned Rudyard Kipling and he rushed away and returned with a photocopied poem by Kipling, called "The Thousandth Man". Jean P (the volunteer who made breakfast, not the Jean M who played the flute) read it aloud for everyone. It's a pretty powerful piece, and likely spoke of this man's feelings: the rarity of a good friend, who accepts you as you are, unlike the 999 who judge you "by your looks, or your acts, or your glory" and that one in a thousand person that stands by you when the whole world is against you. You can read it here: The Thousandth Man

Afterwards as we were cleaning up in the kitchen, Jean P's husband Stuart asked: "that guy with the poem -- is he homeless?" He sure is. Hard to believe -- almost as hard to believe as the sounds of flute music and poetry at breakfast time, in a homeless shelter.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday, 25 Feb update

We've been open three nights now, some of the coldest weather of the season. Numbers are double what we saw the previous time we were open, so temperature does make a difference. Eight people joined us the last two nights, including two new men. This brings our total to 37 individuals who have stayed the night this season. We also had two returning women, and one returning pug, also female. I mention the dog because I attended the Homeless Count training session in Surrey yesterday and one of the questions surveyors ask is "Is there anybody with you today?" And one of the possible answers is "pet", to acknowledge the importance of pets to a homeless person. The results of the Homeless Count will help inform social service providers, funding sources, etc. Many facilities do not allow pets and this is one of the barriers to some homeless people seeking shelter. Not at our facility. Our rule is "absolutely no pets unless accompanied by a homeless person, staff member or volunteer".

It's heartwarming to see new volunteers continue to join our team. Welcome to Poona, Munesh, Carolyn, CathyP who helped out this week and to Boni, Tina, Jamie and Lisa who are on tonight and tomorrow night. Just outstanding. Poona arrived Sunday with a Greek meal completely cooked and ready to serve. Carolyn worked her magic with Leek and Potato soup. And Munesh and CathyP have been on standby for Thursday night for many weeks, but the weather's never cooperated till last night. Unfortunately, last night, the Canucks were in town and Munesh had seats at the game, but he gave his ticket away to help out. Special kudos to Munesh! Last night was another musical chairs night in that the blood donor clinic was using the main hall, kitchen and lounge, but we managed fine. We heated up the church and the guests spent the first couple hours there, warming up with some hot split pea and ham soup with a special treat from 7:30 onwards the St Alban choir practiced -- sounded great. At 8, we were able to move into the lounge for the main meal, then around 9:30 finally able to set up the mats and some tired people went straight to bed.

In terms of our new guests, the one man is quite young, from Toronto, his first winter away from home. The police drove him to our facility -- not because he was making trouble -- but when there's an extreme weather alert, they are on the lookout for people who might need shelter. And starting this year, have the power to forcibly take people to shelters, not force them to enter or stay the night, but at least bring them to the door, if their lives appear to be in danger. This young man was very happy for the ride and has stayed with us the last two nights.

The other new person is an unemployed cook, who had been at Richmond House shelter, but they have a 30 day maximum stay, so he's been forced to live outside for a few weeks. Real nice fellow, neatly dressed, freshly showered and shaved thanks to a well-known facility in city centre. He's been very impressed with social services - first time he's ever been on assistance - they've helped him get various certifications, helping with the job hunt etc and he's on the search for accommodation (assistance includes $375 per month housing allowance). You'd easily walk right by him or have a conversation and you'd never guess he was homeless. You may have already walked by him or some other "invisible homeless" person if you ever visit a library or shop at a mall in Richmond. And, I digress, but this is one of the weaknesses of the Homeless Counts in cities like Richmond where most homeless people are invisible. The Homeless Count pretty much only surveys people who appear to be homeless -- either by their looks, or actions (e.g. panhandling) or where they hang out (e.g. outside a bottle depot).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Shelter update for 3 night activation

The shelter is closed tonight, after 3 nights activation. Very good chance it will reopen again soon, as an Arctic cold front is coming our way.  I've extended the volunteer schedule  out through the weekend, so kindly confirm the shift proposed, cancel or suggest another shift.  My best guess is we'll open again Wednesday night, but that's just a guess -- I'd like to be ready to open as early as tomorrow.

Note to breakfast shift volunteers: we have new and improved hours.  The breakfast shift will now start at 6:30 am, rather than 6 am, as we're finding we have lots of time to make breakfast before the guests wake up.  Enjoy your sleep-in.

We had very few people the past few nights: 2, 3 and 4 -- all familiar faces and it was great to see them.  We had really outstanding meals: turkey pot pie, mashed potatoes, salads, baked chicken, a Greek meal, apple crisp, eggs, pancakes, home made baked beans.    It was a small enough group that we were able to sit around one round table for eating and it really made for a nice social gathering.   

Disappointing that more people didn't come to spend the night and enjoy the food and socializing. I've been asking our guests why more people don't come to shelters (Richmond House had one person the first night and zero the next) and there are dozens of homeless people in Richmond (some would say hundreds).  Last Wednesday was cheque day so some people had money to help with other accommodations.  Some may not know the shelter is open.  And some may already be in a spring mindset with the  longer daylight hours and flowers up in some gardens and don't even think about the shelter.  When you are living the lives most of our guests live:  their efforts focussed on scraping up whatever they need to get through  another day, it's easy to not even think about a service like ours that's only open sporadically.  Another reason why Richmond needs more permanent shelter spaces, more permanent housing etc 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Judging a book by its cover

You’ve all seen homeless people, either in person or in photos: pushing carts laden with stuff, cycling around with enormous bags of empties strapped to their bikes, sitting on a cold sidewalk waiting for hand out, battered and dirty.  But, you’ve probably also walked right by people who are homeless and you never realized it.  The latter are so-called “invisible homeless” – they look and act just like the rest of us and don’t stand out in a crowd.   We have both types at the Inn and we welcome them all.

I related the story of Sonny in an earlier post and he's an example of the former.  He looks homeless: he pushes a cart or walks along beside his bike, his wears layers of clothing to shield him from the weather and his hands are perpetually grimy from his trade.  But inside, he's blessed with a sharp mind, he's a great story teller and has a heart of gold.

 “Maurice" is an example of the invisible homeless – he's clean and neatly dressed.  Instead of a cart or loaded bike, he carries his belongings in a shopping bag, from a high-end shopping centre.  If you spent time talking with him, you’d learn he’s articulate, polite and well read and still never guess he was homeless.

Maurice first walked through our doors the third night we were open and has stayed with us for 22 consecutive nights.   The only person who’s stayed more nights is Dave, who arrived opening night and has joined us every night since, except one – he spent cheque day in November at the “GRC hotel”, as he calls it, at the corner of Minoru and Granville.

Maurice spends hours reading the daily papers and doing the crosswords. One morning I asked if he's a Province man or a Sun man.  His answer: "Globe & Mail".   His other love is hockey and he generally catches the games at a nearby McDonald’s, before coming to the shelter, often arriving well after dinner service has ended,  but he’s grateful for the leftovers we heat up for him.

A couple times, I've asked him about his plan for the day.  Both times, his answer surprised me.   The first time, he said he was planning to get a haircut.  It had been over a year since his last cut, his hair was shoulder length, so it was a big deal for him.  He'd been setting aside some of his "bottle money" (from collecting empties) for this occasion, had walked past the barbershop about a dozen times the day before, but never went in.   When he arrived back that night, he looked the same, so I figured this process might take a while. But the next night, his locks were gone -- and I didn't recognize him at first.

The next time I asked him about his plan was the last morning we were open.  His answer: "I'm going to sort out my pension."  What kind of pension?   "I filed late for my CPP and Old Age Pension and I'm trying to get the money retroactive to last July."   I had no idea Maurice was 65 – he doesn’t look it -- and there’s no good age to be homeless, but 65 is definitely too old.  Unfortunately, senior homelessness is not uncommon, especially in Richmond.  In the last regional homeless count (2008), Richmond had the highest percentage of homeless persons who were seniors (defined to be 55 and older): 17%.  

And, Richmond has the second highest rates of household and child poverty in the province (reference city of Richmond website,  click here).

On the exterior, we appear to be an affluent community: mega homes and expensive cars.   But like individuals, you can’t judge a municipality by appearances.  You have to look beyond external appearances to discover what's really going on.

I wonder how many other seniors, families and children in Richmond are homeless or teetering on the edge?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Busy times at the Inn

Nine guests Sunday night and fifteen guests last night and a sixteenth arrived at 7:30 am for breakfast -- our largest crowd so far. Six first timers and three women last night.  No problems whatsoever aside from a very large pile of dishes to clean up.

More younger people than usual -- 4 or 5 in their twenties.  One fellow called me from Steveston Hwy and arrived later on foot.  He said he's been struggling with substance abuse, had spent a few months in treatment, relapsed badly (said you don't want to know him when he's using) and is consequently no longer welcome at home or his friends' places.  "Matt", another young fellow. joined our conversation and shared that he's waitlisted at a recovery home and suggests the new guy apply too.  He seemed very keen at the time, but didn't follow through this morning.

Another young man (23) arrived around 4 a.m.   I know this because I drove him there.  I had been sound asleep at home when my phone rang about 3:30.   Not usually good news at that hour.   On the line was a worried mother in Alberta who'd just been woken up by a collect call from her son in Richmond, who had spent the night wandering the streets.  He asked her to do an internet search for shelters in Richmond and would be calling her back to get the info.  She found our site,  called me and told me he'd left home 3 months ago, has alcohol problems and was planning to take the bus to his brother's in Langley the next day.  I initially gave her directions to St Alban to pass on to her son, but ended up driving over to pick him up as it was probably an hour's walk.    He was a fine young man and was warmly greeted by our two overnight staffers, who fed him and gave him a blanket and a mat. In the morning,  he had breakfast, picked out a warm sweater and left with a lunch and a bus ticket.  He was very grateful.   His mother left a message later asking that we pass on to all people involved in the shelter: "thank you very much and God bless you all".

As I've said before I have hope for all our guests, but I have a special hope for our younger guests.  They are struggling with many of the same issues as the older guests, but they have time on their side, and enough of it to figure things out, grow into fine adults and put all this behind them.  Chances are it will take years, but with their youth, they have that time.  I know one young man who spent ten years struggling with addiction and homelessness in his teens and twenties but is now clean and sober and has a new life.  He puts it this way: "I wasted 10 years of my life, but it was only 10 years".

An update on some of our regular guests:

Our young "Dorothy" and her wee dog arrived under their own steam for the first time since early December.  (We'd given her a lift in a couple times since).  Her dog is pretty much fully recovered from her accident and is now well enough to travel by bike to the shelter.

"Dave", our veteran cycling recycler, had been waitlisted for a recovery house, a slot became available last week, but he wasn't quite ready and did not follow through.  He turns 60 this month.

"Bud" who went into detox, went missing for a few days then resurfaced in hospital is still in hospital and we've learned he was transferred there directly from detox due to illness.   His illness is not life threatening but still quite serious.

Our married couple ("June" and "Ward") are back.  June has been ill and they spent several hours each of the last two days waiting for care in emergency, eventually got some, and she seemed much improved last night.  Ward has been getting some work in the construction industry allowing them to stay in a local hotel, at a reduced rate, when the shelter is closed.

Both "Neil" and "Wally" are still in the rooming house in Burnaby, and "Carl", our senior who has a temporary suite in Burnaby is still enjoying life there.   "Neil" and "Carl" each spent a night or two at the shelter this week for various reasons, even though they have homes.

Finally, yesterday morning "Sonny"asked if I could give him a lift to a metal recycler on Mitchell Island (under the  Knight Street bridge).   I've never been to Mitchell Island,  and I hadn't spent a lot of one-on-one time with Sonny, so it sounded like an experience not to be missed.   En route we stopped to pick up the metal.  First, at his van, permanently parked with two flat tires behind an apartment building his friend lives in.   It is jammed to the ceiling with stuff, including metal bits.   We transferred over a couple boxes of used brass doorknobs that he'd found in a dumpster.  Next, we stopped at a processing plant that has  an agreement with Sonny that he empty their bin of scrap metal every week, no matter what's in there.   Normally, it contains some scrap steel that fetches 10 cents a pound.   Today, he struck gold: well, copper (and aluminum) to be exact.   Copper goes for $3 per pound and our little trip to Mitchell Island netted him $270 cash.

What $270 worth of copper and aluminum looks like

He handed me a $20 bill as thanks, but I declined.  On the way back, he was filled with joy and asked if it'd be ok if he sang some hymns.  The sun was shining, his voice was strong (he's sung in a few choirs) and he told me a few times of his love of the Lord.   I asked if he's part of a community.  His eyes teared up and he said "no, but I sometimes stand outside a church on Sunday and listen to the singing".  I asked if he doesn't feel welcomed. "It's not that.  I don't want to go in front of the Lord until I've cleaned myself up: had a shower and have some clean clothes on."  What went unsaid between us is that the clean clothes are not likely the real barrier -- it's most likely related to where this newfound cash would end up.   I dropped him off near a bottle depot, as he requested, and we wished each other well.

Would I go back to Mitchell Island with Sonny?  Not likely.  But I look forward to spending some more one-on-one time with him again, whether he's in the mood for singing a hymn of thanks or singing the blues.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Help needed with this year's Homeless Count

Ever wonder how many people are homeless in Richmond?  And whether the situation is improving or getting worse?  Or why some homeless people never seek refuge in shelters?  The Metro Vancouver regional Homeless Count attempts to answer these types of questions and more.  The counts are held every three years and there's one schedule for this year, specifically Wed, 16 March.   These are large undertakings and rely largely on volunteers to do the counting.

I attended a kickoff meeting for the Richmond count at Broadmoor Baptist last week.  Ten people were in attendance, seven of whom are either volunteers or staff at the St Alban shelter (and 3 of the 7 are also members of Richmond's Poverty Response Committee).

On count day, volunteers will head out in pairs to locations where persons who are homeless typically spend time: bottle depots, McDonald's, libraries, food bank, community meal etc, and gather basic demographic information.    Volunteers will be trained on how to approach people, how to fill in the survey, etc.  The count will be done largely during daylight hours.   

Results of previous counts are available here: Metro Vancouver Homelessness.  Interesting reading.  In Richmond, the number of homeless persons counted were:

2002: 29
2005: 33
2008: 56

And in 2008, Richmond was singled out as the municipality with the "highest incidence of senior homelessness (55 and older)" on a percentage basis.

Last time,  60 volunteers covered Richmond and we're hoping for at least that number this year.  If you'd like to volunteer, contact Richmond's Poverty Response Committee, by clicking here: info@richmondprc.org

Thursday, January 20, 2011

News about a few of our regular guests

It's been a while since we've seen some of our regular guests, but we still manage to make contact with most of them.  Here's the news.  I'm using fictitious names:

"Carl", the man who took possession of a bachelor suite in Burnaby is still doing very well, presumably still enjoying his baths.

"Bud", who went into detox a week ago Saturday left the day he was scheduled to go into a recovery home. He was AWOL for the next few days and is apparently in a hospital now, although no one's been able to make contact with him to see how he's doing.  Confidentiality rules at places like detoxes and hospitals prevent access to information to most people, including ourselves.

Welcome supplies for Wally and Neil's new home
The two fellows who found an apartment together in Burnaby ("Neil" and "Wally") were doing well as of Saturday.   Wally landed the job he'd applied for and had worked two days.  I arranged to meet him in Richmond last Saturday and we went together to pick up a carload of household supplies and furniture from a friend of Margaret's.   He was overjoyed.  I dropped the stuff off at his place, where now 3 of our guests are staying.  Wally had a few options for what next: staying put, moving in with another person, taking a job in another city.  He was going to contact me once he'd sorted that out.

"Dorothy", the young woman with a dog hasn't been around much because her dog was hit by a car and hasn't been well enough to travel to the shelter on her bike.   We drove her and her dog to the shelter a couple nights and the last time the dog was looking pretty much normal.

Upgraded bike
The two fellows who each received a bag of empties are both doing well.  "Otto", the younger of the two, has been working and has more permanent accommodation at one of the shelters run by the Lookout Society.  And "Dave", the veteran, continues to have his ups and downs.    I met him at McDonald's when I went in to pick up Wally to take him to pick up his furniture.   Dave had just bought Wally a burger (they'd feuded at the shelter a couple times so this was great to see).  Dave was sporting a fresh hair cut, was clean shaven,  had a new ball cap and he took me outside to show off his bike: it now has 3 new rear red flashing lights, 2 new front headlights, a mirror and a new padded seat.  He had been hit by a car a month or so ago near the shelter and ICBC had arranged to cover the costs of fixing his bike, outfitting it with more safety gear and also gave him a cash settlement.  The cash allowed him to take a few days off from collecting empties and buy himself a few niceties.  He was still planning to enter a recovery house the end of January and his worker is trying to find him a home in Richmond for after the recovery program.  She's also arranging CPP for him -- he'll be eligible next month.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Beloved Community

Here's a letter to the editor published in the January 15th edition of the Richmond Review, written by Rev Margaret Cornish, pastor of St Alban, key member of the shelter committee (Spiritual Advisor) and huge advocate for the poor.  We are all fortunate to be part of her beloved community.

King’s message remains urgent here

Jan. 15 is Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday. He was, of course, a powerful advocate for people living in poverty.

King’s voice was everything. It brought a nation to attention and a people to some understanding. His voice spoke powerful truth. He spoke straight from the truth of his own heart to the goodness in our hearts—which he believed in. He never excluded anyone.

The world tries hard to remember him, but our voices are not his voice. We are not as convincing.

King’s message, 43 years after his death, continues to be urgent and of deep relevance.

In Richmond, the number of women, children and men living in poverty grows yearly. Increasing numbers of people use the food bank and church community meal programs. The Inn from the Cold extreme weather shelter at St. Alban opened in 2008 and has also seen the number of guests increase. We’ve had 155 bed-nights this winter so far and 29 different individuals (25 men, four women, all over 19).

The response of the people of Richmond to the needs of those experiencing homelessness on their streets is generous and amazing. Seventy active volunteers and a host of others at Inn from the Cold give of their time and resources to provide a warm and safe place.

On behalf of Larry McIntyre (shelter manager) and co-chairs Sister Cecilia Hudec and Victor Farmer, I thank the community of Richmond for the outpouring of compassion and care demonstrated—including practical gifts and support.

I also want to thank the volunteers and guests of Inn from the Cold shelter for the privilege of being part of their lives. I have learned from them all and been deeply moved by our experience together.

As a person of faith I have felt the love and grace of God in conversation, prayer, and laughter on many occasions. I’ve been deeply moved by the dignity and humility of our guests and the depth of care and humanity among all our guests, staff and volunteers.

It is through this that I have experienced “the beloved community” of which King dreamed.

Reverend Margaret Cornish
St. Alban Church

Friday, January 14, 2011

Wish list from two guys starting new lives

I mentioned in an earlier post that two of our regulars found an apartment together.   They dropped in for dinner one evening this week and left behind a wishlist of items for their new place.   If you have any of these items laying around collecting dust, please email me.

love seat
tv stand
desk lamp
tall halogen living room lamp
smoke detectors
2 single foamies/futons 4 inches
radio/alarm clock/ghetto blaster

laundry soap
running shoes (size 7 1/2)
area rug

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Update on a few guests who have gone to better places

While preparing breakfast today, I mentioned to Kathe,  one of our longstanding volunteers, that a few of our regular guests have gone to better places.   I realized by the shocked look on her face that I'd implied they'd died, so I clarified that four men have moved into more permanent accommodations and haven't been staying at the shelter recently.   One has resided at a bachelor suite in Burnaby for a week or so; another entered detox Saturday, is doing well and has a place in a recovery home reserved for him.   A third man was accepted in a rental unit, based partly on references from shelter staff.  He  moved in a few days ago and he and a fourth regular guest are sharing the apartment.   The fourth had a job interview today and he was decked out in shirt and tie for the occasion.  

I always have hope for our guests, no matter how stuck they may appear or how hopeless they may feel.   And when one person makes a significant change in their life, it not only validates that hope but more importantly it sends a strong message to others in similar situations that change is possible, and that brings them hope.  So, I don't think it was a coincidence that 4 people, all of whom knew each other, made big steps forward in the space of a couple weeks.

These folks moving on with their lives reminds me somewhat of sending one of your kids off to their first day of school.  As parents, we are full of hope and a little trepidation.   The key difference here is not just these men aren't our school-aged children; the key difference is that these men are the ones who have made their own decision that it's time to head off in a new direction.  Like youngsters heading off to school, or life in general, their journeys will involve bumps in the road: a few steps forward, a few back.

I look forward to seeing each of these guys again, and meeting them wherever they are on their journey.    We wish them well.  They deserve the best life has to offer.

The truth about empties

Many of our guests meet their daily needs by collecting and redeeming empties.   One veteran of our shelter usually forgoes our 7 a.m. breakfast to set out early and hunt down empties ahead of the competition.  Some follow the pattern of household recycling days and sift through curbside blue boxes in search of nuggets.  Some hit known good garbage cans and reach an arm in, and some go for full immersion in the big dumpsters in commercial and industrial areas.  Most stay within Richmond but one fellow cycled out to UBC last week where pickins were so good he returned the next day as well.

Last night, one of our new volunteers, Sandra, arrived with two garbage bags full of empties to hand over to our guests.  It had just started snowing,  so it was perfect timing, as the chore of collecting empties is tough enough in good weather.   I stored the empties overnight and in the morning brainstormed with staffers Frank and Hugh how best to allocate the loot.  It's always tricky to determine how to divvy up stuff like this, but we decided we'd give one bag to the veteran early birder and the other to a new fellow who had just spent his first night ever at a shelter.

Bike loaded up with a bag of empties

The veteran was delighted with the bagfull and strapped it on the back of his trusty bike.  This gift meant he wouldn't need to leave early, he wouldn't need to cycle around on snowy streets and he would be able to join us for breakfast for only the second time since November (the other time was cheque day).  He's pretty open about what he usually spends his money on and it's not how most of us would allocate our funds, but he's waitlisted for recovery and this will get him another day closer to what could be a big change in his life.

The rookie had been working for 10 years at the same place but had been laid off and fell on some hard times recently.  He came in looking disshevelled and bewildered, telling us the RCMP told him it was a good shelter and he asked permission to stay the night.   He had been called back to work starting in the morning, needed a good night's sleep and had to leave at 5:30 am, so we added "wake up calls" to our inventory of shelter services.  He hadn't shaved in a couple weeks so was happy to see a razor in the Red Cross hygiene kits we hand out to newbies.    He needs a car to get to work and had enough gas to get him there, and when we offered him the bag of empties, he was very thankful, as this would probably give him enough fuel to get him back to the shelter tonight and to work again tomorrow.    He left before breakfast, but woofed down some instant porridge, part of a large donation of porridge, coffee and pastries from Starbucks and set off with a bag lunch made by Kay.

At the shelter, we hear lots of stories about why people need things (bus fare, pain pills, etc).   You never really know who's telling the truth and who's shooting you a line.  But you learn to trust your gut instinct and lessons learned from similar encounters.  I was happy with where the empties ended up today.   Thanks to Sandra, we eased a veteran through another day -- hopefully another day closer to sobriety -- and gave a rookie a hand up that might be enough to get him quickly back on his feet, employed, and with a place to live.   Maybe one day, one or both of these guys will be playing that party game where you say three things, only one of which is true and people have to guess which one is true, and they'll say "I once stayed in a homeless shelter".  I wonder if people will guess.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Inspiring video from India

Here's a short video about some amazing work being done to help the needy in India. (Thanks, Vic, for passing this on)  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_3BEwpv0dM

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Shelter closing for a few nights

We closed the shelter this morning after 7 nights and will remain closed till we return to subzero weather, likely Saturday or Sunday night.  We had 13 overnight guests last night, our largest night yet.  Three new faces -- all younger men, at least 2 had been here last year. Twenty-three individuals have now stayed at the shelter since we opened in November.

On Tuesday nights, we've been encouraging people to attend the community meal and that's been working great.   Five or six attended last night. Most of the remaining guests arrived quite late, and they were served leftovers from the fridge by the overnight staff.  The volunteers who worked the shift last night had little to do, not even dishes, but they enjoyed socializing with the guests.   So, from now on, Tuesday nights that there's a community meal, we won't plan volunteer shifts in the kitchen.  But people are welcome to come to the shelter any evening to socialize, including Tuesdays.

Yesterday we said farewell to a very deserving man who took possession of his bachelor accommodation in Burnaby.   One of our staff drove him there and we got word last night that he enjoyed a long, hot bath and is still amazed that he has a home again -- he'd been in a tent for two years.  He will continue to stay in touch, and hopes to find permanent housing in Richmond in 2 or 3 months.  Another great guy is going to see a room in Burnaby today that he'd like to rent (he's been homeless for a year) and asked for letters of reference from a couple of us.  We were happy to oblige.

So thanks again to everyone working behind the scenes and to those who came early and stayed late:  JeanM, JohnG, Ofra, GerryM, Joanne, FrancesK, De, JoanG, JeanP, Stuart, Elaine, TheresaH, TheresaA, SerenaC, Randy, Trevor, LisaP, Evy, LynnF, Gracey, Kristin, Elisabeth, JohnR, JoanL, Sandra, Kathleen, Harry.    

Your actions and presence send a strong message of love to those who can use some.  You are making a difference.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tuesday update -- we're open tonight, maybe closed for a while

Shelter is open again tonight -- our seventh night in a row. Possibly our last for a while (as always, to be confirmed each morning). Ten guests last night, ten and nine the previous two nights. Almost all familiar faces -- one new to the shelter, bringing the total number of individuals who have stayed at the Inn this season to 20: 18 men, 2 women.

Food continues to be outstanding and very much appreciated. Thank you volunteers and food committee people (and staff who often pitch in). Homemade lasagna and chicken cacciatore, turkey dinner New Year's Eve, lots of homemade soups.

Super supper crew -- not only did they serve up lasagna, salad and garlic bread for dinner, they prepared muffin batter from scratch for next morning and cooked potatotes and carrots to add to next night's stew

Fresh-baked muffins, bacon and french toast for breakfast
Breakfasts of muffins, eggs, french toast, pancakes, frittata -- all fresh made. And deserts have blossomed of late: homemade apple & berry crisp, almond roca, pineapple upside down cake. One guest is asking for a bigger belt! Our guests burn a lot of calories, just staying warm or cycling around collecting bottles (one man cycled out to UBC 2 days in a row hunting for empties). Typical men's waist sizes 28-32.

Pineapple upside down cakes delivered fresh to our kitchen 

Special kudos to the volunteers doing the less glamourous aspect of meal service: dishes and wiping counters -- the kitchen is always left spotless and this goes a long way towards fitting in seamlessly with other parish activities. Tonight, we'll offer up good ol' beans and wieners, as the St Alban's Tuesday community meal resumes after a Christmas break, and many of our shelter guests will chow down there. We don't get full access to the kitchen until after 8 pm so we'll have a very simple meal.

Hockey is a big topic at the shelter -- the radio is tuned to the Canadian juniors or the Canucks whenever they're playing. A few of the guests watch the games at a nearby McDonald's -- one came over about 7 pm last night to tell us that four of them would be a bit late for dinner as the game was just in the third period. McDonald's is one of those places where many of our guests are able to spend some time without getting hassled, if they are reasonably well dressed and behaved. On New Years day the bottle depots were closed, so one guest spent the entire day at McDonald's: from the time he left the shelter till we opened again.

Weather is warming and we are OK for volunteers tonight and tomorrow morning, so if we do happen to open tomorrow, I'll be looking to fill shifts. Since the main holiday period is over, I'm going to revert to using the shifts people signed up for on a regular basis, so will likely contact people individually and try to avoid a spam message to many if I can.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lots of people Inn from the Cold

We've been open three nights now and we'll likely be open for at least two more. Six people the first night, twelve the second, eight last night: New Year's Eve. Five people were new this season and two had never stayed in a shelter before anywhere.

Once again, we had to jockey for space with other groups who use St Alban. This time a blood donor clinic completely filled the main room that we normally use for sleeping for two straight days, leaving their equipment overnight, so we set up the mats in the church and served meals in the lounge after the clinic closed. At one point during dinner, I went back to the church and found it empty except for one of our guests down on one knee in front of the altar. He told me later that he hadn't prayed in years, but he'd been hit by a car that day while riding his bike and being inside the church at St Alban that same day prompted him to give thanks for being alive.

The lack of a women's shelter in Richmond continues to be painfully obvious. The same night we were in the church, a woman who was quite well dressed arrived. She'd been directed to our shelter by the RCMP. Her English was weak, but we learned she'd been kicked out of her house by her husband. Everyone did their best to make her feel safe and welcome (we had two women staff on that evening, and we offered her a private area to sleep), but it was not the right place for her and she left before lights out.

Today's the start of a new year and there are signs of new, positive changes for a few of our regulars. Two are seriously considering detox or recovery houses and another just received word that he's qualified for social assistance in January. The big news is one man is moving into permanent housing starting next week, as he's over 55 and that bumps up his eligibility. He's been tenting in a Richmond park for over a year with another regular guest. They have quite a camp set up there: one small tent for each of them and a third large tent they call the garage where then store their gear and work on their bikes. They are hidden from public view, but the RCMP know they are there and check up on them. His buddy does not meet the same criteria for this kind of housing, but his advocate is trying to find a way to get housing for him too.

Volunteers and staff continue to make the Inn a warm and welcome place to spend the night. Kudos to everyone. Our overnight staff (Anneliese, Dasha, Frank, Hugh, James, Kay and Norm) are hired to ensure the safety and security of guests and volunteers but they spend most of their time being there for our guests and I think this person to person interaction is one of the shelter's biggest gifts.

Happy New Year everyone. May 2011 be your best year ever.