|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.