I’m an EFry volunteer and recently I’ve had the opportunity to support the Extreme Weather Response (EWR) overnight emergency heat shelter at the Maida Duncan Drop-in Centre in New Westminster. We have space for six women. Each night, four or five women have come in. They can have a shower, do laundry and have something to eat. And do they eat: they are so hungry and so thankful for a hot meal and someone to speak to. They sleep in fits and starts all night, jumping when they hear noises, not quite able to fully trust they are safe.
Before I volunteered with EFry, I’d see homeless women and say hello. But I never really spoke to anyone. Volunteering has given me the chance to really listen and talk with women. I heard the story of “Gina”, who has lived on the street for over a year. She remembers the day she became homeless with crystal clarity. The days since are foggier. Gina has survived, in part, thanks to the kindness of strangers. People have let her sleep in their underground parking on cold nights. Others have allowed her a few hours respite in their strata parking garage before sending her back out into the night “warmed.”
Gina continues to return to the drop-in and she says it is the first place she has found yet in which to stay. While it is so needed, the Extreme Weather Response is only a band-aid as it’s allowed to welcome women between 8 pm and 8 am only. It keeps women alive in weather that might otherwise kill them but I am hopeful more can be achieved. More true shelter beds are needed for women wanting off the street. We were able to help one woman find a longer-term bed at an EFry shelter as she happened to call just when someone else was leaving but I wish finding a bed was easier than being lucky in the timing of the call for help. Unfortunately, women-only shelter beds are completely full. There simply are no spaces.
I am privileged to be able to offer my time and admiration for the women I meet. They are alone, vulnerable, and without resources, finding ways to survive in conditions I can’t imagine. I will continue to volunteer and offer women friendship and care. As long as I am needed, I will show up. I am afraid to hope for warmer weather because as lean as it is, providing homeless women with a mat on the floor, a caring ear, hot water and food is better than nothing.