About Inn From The Cold

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pausing to remember

Sunday, Nov 11 was one of those cold, grey days typical of Remembrance Day.   My wife Jan and I attended the service at the cenotaph, walking there from home to stand alongside people of all ages, outside in the elements,  pausing to remember the battles fought,  the lives lost,  and the peace we sometimes take for granted. It's a powerful experience that draws us back each year.

For many of those assembled, it was probably the coldest hour they'll spend all year.  Right after the ceremony, people hustled back to the warmth of their cars and homes.  I couldn't help thinking of our homeless citizens, knowing they spend the majority of their lives outside, battling the elements, battling poverty, with no warm home awaiting their return.    Many also battle addictions and mental illness, but unlike the wars our honoured vets fought, street battles rarely result in peace.  Lives are lost in the streets, not necessarily in the sense of death, but a loss of who they are or where they are going.  Fortunately, there's hope for those who wander the streets: hope they can find their way again through some life-altering change (housing is found, an addiction is in recovery, a mental illness stabilizes, a job is found) allowing them to return to a more normal life, with a warm home awaiting their return.

Until one of those life altering changes happens, one of the few hopes for a warm place to sleep is an extreme weather alert, and on this cold, wet Remembrance Day, that's exactly what happened.

Posters announcing the alert went up; shelter volunteers and staff were mustered; the furnace in the big hall at St Alban was fired up; sleeping mats and blankets were laid out and kitchen volunteers arrived and started filling the building with the aromas of homemade shepherd's pie and apple crumble.

So, at least for this one cold night in November, there was a warm place, a temporary home of sorts, for  a few of our street veterans.

I'm not suggesting we honour our street vets in the same way we honour our war vets, but I am suggesting we pause for a moment and remember the women and men who have no home and most likely are outside right now as you read this.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Familiar faces

Nov 1 marked the start of the extreme weather shelter season and we are all set to open once the temperature drops.   Most of our volunteers are returning from last year and we'll also be welcoming some new volunteers to the team -- we held an orientation session for new volunteers last week. Grace, our food coordinator, is back again, and all of our overnight staff and steering committee members are veterans from previous seasons.

In terms of returning guests, my expectation is that most guests will be new to the shelter this year, as was the case last season,  when 27 of the 36 guests we sheltered during the season were new.  At least nine of last year's guests are now in housing and likely more that I've lost touch with.  "Kip" has returned to work as a cook at a high-end restaurant at the airport.   "Dorothy" who had been living in a camper is now in a proper apartment.   "Will" is still in the basement suite he rented with "Maurice" last February, with a new roommate.  "Bud", "Buddy" and "Neil" are all sharing a house together with "Wally" from the previous season and two other formerly homeless individuals.   "Carlos" who used to be a teacher, and always wore a tie, sent us a nice letter thanking us for our hospitality along with a donation of $50 to the shelter.  

And sadly, two of last season's guests passed away earlier this year: "Maurice" at the age of 67 in February and "Milton" at the age of 56 in April.   Both were regulars at the shelter, both were an integral part of the community that formed each night we were open and both will be dearly missed.   We held a service for Maurice in March at St Alban Church and Milton's family held one for him, in June, in his hometown of London Ontario.  May they rest in peace.