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How one Metro Vancouver non-profit is helping the homeless during the COVID-19 crisis (VIDEO)

We're being asked to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19, but what about those who have no home to stay in?
A meal recipient from NightShift in Surrey. Photo by Seonah Han

By Seonah Han

We all hear to stay home for COVID-19, and we should. But not everyone has the luxury to stay at home. Homeless people have become more vulnerable during the pandemic as there is limited community help for them now.   

The not-for-profit society NightShift Street Ministires has been serving the homeless in Surrey since 2004. Outside their office on King George Boulevard, they offer meals, clothing, counselling, basic nursing, and loving community contact. 

NightShift still operates as an essential business. However, they have had to limit their service substantially due to COVID-19. 

“Once the government mandated that we couldn’t gather in groups of more than 50 people, that was our signal that we had to switch up our protocols on how we serve. We scaled down our service substantially,” says MaryAnne Connor, the founder and president of NighShift.

Although NightShift stopped many services, they decided to continue to provide meals as usual. At 7 p.m. every day, they set up a table at the back door of the office to hand out bags of food.  

homeless-nightshift-surrey-bcThose experiencing homelessness in Surrey, B.C. are being served by NightShift Street Ministries, even through the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Seonah Han

“We are still committed to serving hot meals. So on a typical night, we prepare a meal with a sandwich, a dessert and a beverage in a paper bag. So we don’t need as many volunteers as before. We have limited our volunteers to six people each day,” says Connor. 

Connor adds that NighShift hands out about 130 bags to the homeless every night, and oftentimes it’s their only meal of the day.

NightShift breaks down their Surrey COVID-19 outreach as follows: 

  • Nightly volunteer teams of  6 people
  • Meals prepared as usual at NightShift or in a Fraser Health approved kitchen
  • No food truck or clothing trailer
  • Paper bag meals to be served from the back outreach door on site at NightShift
  • As guests pick up their meal, they are advised not to gather in large groups on the lot
  • No prayer circle in the outreach lot. Volunteers may pray inside the building, with no hand-holding or physical contact with other volunteers.
  • Kitchen and equipment to be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water, then sanitized with a bleach solution, as usual
  • No Care Bus services (provided by volunteer nurses and counsellors), live music, Art Class, Bible Study or Movie Night until further notice.

Although the volunteers are still committed to helping the homeless, they say it’s hard to provide emotional support, encouragement and community connection with the limited social interaction allowed with the homeless.

“It’s hard because we get really connected to our street friends...We reach out to them and when they need a hug we give them a hug, we talk to them we joke with them. A lot of them don’t have that kind of contact. So it’s hard just to hand out the bags,” says Rod, a long time volunteer at NightShift. 

As it relates to the homeless in Surrey, the City of Surrey announced April 7 the North Surrey Recreation Centre will re-open temporarily to shelter up to 110 people seeking a safe place to sleep and isolate during the coronavirus pandemic.

You can find more information about NightShift online here.

Seonah Han is a web designer/developer at Glacier Media Digital and a volunteer with NightShift