Came and sat on our gym floor

Scruffy, dirty clothes, reeking of booze

Body held tensely,

Ready for flight

Eyes – sad, wounded, angry

“I swore I’d never set foot in a church again!” he slurred

I nod sympathetically

“Not all church people are the same.” I said

He ate

Then left

Leaving footprints in the snow


Next night

He’s back

I watch

Quietly he takes a mat and a blanket

Creates a space for himself

He eats

He’s quiet

He stays


Days and nights of freezing cold pass

He is still with us

He smiles more now

This night he shares his pain and his frustration


Share gentle words of kindness and encouragement


Do not pass judgement

His life has been a sad one

Like all the others


He now greets me by name

“I only had two beers today!” he says

“Way to go!” I reply

I give him a hug



He is curled up in a wing back chair in the lounge

Reading a book by the fire

Body relaxed

He looks up and smiles

“I’m going to donate this book to the church library.” he tells me

I smile

I notice he is looking healthier, cleaner

He’s putting on weight

There is a glow about him


I feel sad

I can’t sleep

The snow has almost gone

The temperature is rising

Soon I will have to return him to the streets

Back to the cold

Back to the dumpsters

Back to anonymity and loneliness

Back to the thugs who beat up the homeless


I am angry and frustrated

I will fight for a permanent shelter

But that is little comfort

To this man

Whom I have watched, nurtured, encouraged

Who has just begun to recover

His dignity


There are more than two hundred homeless estimated to be living in Richmond at the present time. They find shelter in abandoned houses, under bridges, in covered parking areas and in parks. There is one, ten bed shelter - for men only, currently in operation and there are few services available.

St. Alban first opened its doors as an Extreme Weather Shelter in 2008. This winter, we saw the longest and coldest spell of weather in decades. During this time, our church housed and fed up to nineteen souls, five of them women, thanks due in part to community agencies such as the Richmond Poverty Response Committee and the Women’s Resource Centre as well as our partners in faith.

Food and volunteers poured through the doors. There is a continued outpouring of support from the community.

As a result of our experiences this winter and of the connections we made with our guests over the 28 days we were operational, St. Alban has become part of a larger community movement to fight for a continuum of housing that addresses the needs of all of Richmond’s residents.

We have also begun a bi-monthly outreach program to continue to connect with and support the men and the women we came to know this winter and to let them know we still care.

The poem is © 2009 by Margaret Alexandra Rose Eng