From 9am to 2pm on October 13th, 2010, St. Alban’s Church Hall was the location for Richmond’s Second Annual Homeless Connect event.
This offering to the community is a product of the hard work and commitment of an ecumenical group called Faith Communities Housing Group (an adjunct of Richmond Poverty Response Committee). The co-Chair of this organization is Sister Cecilia Hudek (image above on left), a former staff member of St. Joseph the Worker, Roman Catholic Church in Richmond. Sister Cecilia resigned from her position at the church a few years ago and since then has earned two degrees, one of them an MA in Earth Literacy. Her business card states that her calling is to work toward Justice for People and Justice for the Planet and she is certainly doing that.
The concept behind Homeless Connect is quite simple: produce a day when people who are homeless or live on the margins of society can gather at a specific location and while at that location avail themselves of: a hearty home-cooked meal (both breakfast and lunch were made available), clothing, foot care, medical care, a haircut, veterinary treatment for beloved companions, bicycle repairs, counseling information, nutrition counseling and some kindness. These services are all provided by local personnel (physicians, counseling professionals, a hairdressing school) in the various fields with the support of donations from local businesses and individuals to cover any costs.
THe St. Alban's community and partners involve anywhere from 150-200 volunteers who actively participate in this day and contribute to its success.
The Homeless Connect day is an important event in itself but its function is also to raise awareness of the other challenges that Faith Communities Housing Group and their constituency faces and that is the lack of shelter housing in the City of Richmond.
Richmond, a municipality of 200,000 residents does not offer any shelter housing.
There is a Salvation Army facility but it is not a shelter, it is a transition house that is also funded for six (6) extreme weather beds. The official homeless count in Richmond is between 50 and 60 but according to Faith Communities Housing Group members and others who work with the homeless community the number is probably much closer to 300.
In the fall of 2008 a number of advocacy groups working together, successfully provoked some deliberate action resulting in the receipt of funding to create some more extreme weather beds. St. Alban’s Incumbent, the Reverend Margaret Cornish is extremely active in the Richmond ecumenical and multi-faith community and has an established presence within Faith Communities Housing Group. With the permission of parish leadership, St. Alban’s offered the use of their parish hall as a location for the newly funded extreme weather beds and The Richmond Extreme Weather Shelter at St. Alban’s (this name is under review, stay tuned) was born.
There is a board, a few staff and a number of volunteers that facilitate the functioning of the shelter. Extreme Weather Shelter Coordinator, Janet Sutherland is happy to report that the Shelter has obtained funding for 16 beds for 2010 and will be in readiness to receive individuals who would otherwise be out in the cold as of November 1st. Thanks to the funding and the generous support of businesses and individuals there is enough capital to hire a Shelter Manager. An HR expert from the Parish of St. Alban’s volunteered to draft a job description which is avaialble by clicking the following link. Extreme Weather Shelter Operator. (scroll down to listing number 3).
(In the December, 2010 issue of Topic the newspaper of the Diocese of New Westminster a more detailed article covering this story will be printed and in that story will be more particulars about the functioning of an extreme weather shelter).
This is just a small segment of a much larger story. Richmond needs shelter housing and there is a dedicated group of organizations and individuals working toward this goal including Richmond East MLA, Linda Reid. Linda is working diligently on behalf of these groups, assisting them as they apply for and sooner, rather than later receive funding and a location or locations for shelter housing in Richmond. For Linda, this is not about politics or government it is about filling a gaping hole in the social safety net.
Vic Farmer, a parishioner at St. Alban’s and co-Chair of The Richmond Extreme Weather Shelter at St. Alban’s Steering Committee recently received on behalf of the compassionate ministries of St. Alban's a $200,000 gift from his employer Milan Ilich , Principal Executive of the Progressive Group of Companies and an investor in the Vancouver Giants Junior Hockey team.
Mr. Ilich, a long-time Richmond resident and philanthropist received the Order of British Columbia on October 21st, 2010. Mr. Ilich dedicated this financial gift to the Tuesday Community Meal at St. Alban’s which is a core component of the larger goal; to bring some comfort and safety to the population in Richmond who find themselves without the basic means to live.