About Inn From The Cold

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.