About Inn From The Cold

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.