The Surrey Urban Mission in Whalley was humming Wednesday morning as dozens of homeless people, and those close to the edge, partook in a variety of services donated by more than 45 social help organizations.
Held in conjunction with Provincial Homelessness Action Week, the sixth annual "Connect Day" at the urban mission was one of several such events this week, hosted by the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Task Force.
On Tuesday, Servants Anonymous Society and the Realistic Success Recovery Society handed out sandwiches and personal care items to homeless and impoverished people out of the Easy Does It Club in Newton.
Today (Thursday), Options is holding a community outreach barbecue at Hawthorne Square in Cloverdale, and on Friday the Sources Newton Resource Centre will stage a march and provide lunch for the needy at 88th Avenue and King George Boulevard.
Jonquil Hallgate, executive director of the Surrey Urban Mission, said that most of the people who came to these events when they started were middle-aged homeless white men wrestling with various addictions, but homelessness and poverty has since embraced a wider demographic.
"There is a lot of moms and children, lots of working families," she noted. "Lots of seniors and people living with disabilities. People from the aboriginal community, youth."
During Wednesday's event, which began with a pancake breakfast, dozens of volunteers - churchgoers, students and businesspeople among them - provided a cornucopia of free services such as flu shots, eye exams, haircuts, pedicures and manicures, bike and wheelchair repair, counselling, veterinarian care and animal grooming, and also handed out clothing, shoes, condoms, diapers, toiletries, dog food and cat food and other stuff.
Doug Nickerson, 54, was especially happy to get some socks.
"Socks are always welcome on the street," he said.
Nickerson is the son of a Baptist preacher, and hails from a fishing village in Nova Scotia. He wanted to see the Rocky Mountains, and eventually ended up here.
"There was that old saying, 'Go West, young man,'" he chuckled while packing up his bike and gear.
He used to work as a painter, then ended up on EI. Lately, he's been sleeping on sidewalks, under awnings, in ravines, and frequents the Surrey Urban Mission, Front Room drop-in centre and NightShift Street Ministries in Whalley. He heard about Wednesday's event through the Front Room.
"It's nice to know homeless people are being recognized," Nickerson said. "There is a difference to homelessness and being addicted to drugs."
Perhaps the most notable thing about him, as far as first impressions go, is how happy he seems to be.
The "haves," as it were, have not cornered the market on philanthropy. Nor is material wealth the be-all and end-all.
Nickerson spends his nights handing out "harm reduction" packs - containing clean needles - to drug addicts on the street. He gets the packs from the Needle Exchange.
"The feeling you get helping others, you can't buy that with money," he said.
"I'm happy in my situation."
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