Feature: I'm homeless, not hopeless

With a homeless food delivery program in Richmond on life support, a riverside ‘resident’ tells the News how the hot meal means much more than a dinner

“Every homeless person in Richmond will suffer. Their will to fight, their will to survive and to carry on will take a hit.”

Perched on his “garden fence” just 12 feet from the lapping waves of the Fraser River, while patting his old Labrador-cross Kyanne, you wouldn’t think Ian had a care in the world.

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After all, his friend, Hugh Freiberg, had just brought breakfast to his little “plot of paradise” near an industrial site, which he’s called home for more than seven years.

Ian got “relocated” to his current spot just before the 2010 Olympics, because he was “more visible” near a school at the time.

“It’s not the lap of luxury, but it’s not hell in a hand basket. I’m homeless, but not hopeless,” said an articulate Ian, wearing a T-shirt with the words “Never Give Up” under his thin jacket.

In reality, his home is a beat-up, solar-powered camper van, wrecked SUV, complemented by his self-landscaped garden, garnished with a tent and patio umbrella.

As part of the formerly St. Alban church-run Food Aid Delivery Program, Freiberg is a frequent visitor to Ian’s “castle” on the river, bringing him and 24 other homeless people, hot meals several times a week for five years.

The program — now run by Richmond non-profit Chimo after the church ran out of money to fund it — is on life-support and in danger of dying, unless cross-faith community support steps up.

When asked how he feels about not having Freiberg’s almost daily visits, Ian’s voice, behind what’s left of his broken teeth, cracked a little.

“If you feel that nobody cares, it doesn’t take long until you don’t care,” said Ian.

“The access to Hugh and the people he knows is…you know.

“You wanna give up sometimes, but you don’t. (Hugh) gives me the confidence to expose my past to move forward.”

Ian gets one of his regular deliveries of a hot meal from Hugh Freiberg, via the Richmond Food Aid Delivery Program.


Call from dentist enduces tears

To compound Ian’s misery, he has been living for years with a serious skin infection, which prevents him from getting much-needed treatment for what is now a double hernia.

However, as Freiberg points out, the under-threat food program is not just about delivering meals; it’s about delivering all kinds of hope for the homeless community of Richmond.

“Yes, it’s food, socks and coats in the winter time, in the rainy season we give them boots and ponchos,” acknowledged Freiberg, a street outreach worker for the program.

“We try to direct them to the proper community services so they can get their life in order. It’s about trying to get them into housing, as well.

“These people can’t make it out to church community meals due to their addiction, their health or for fear of losing the spot where their make-shift home is.”

Case in point came Thursday when, moments after the Richmond News left Ian’s camp, Freiberg received a call from a dentist friend, Dr. Billy Yu, who works out of the Richlea Clinic at Broadmoor.

“Ian started crying after we talked to the dentist’s office,” Freiberg told the News.

“Ian found out that they will extract all his teeth and get him dentures. He says he will finally be able to have a big smile that will give him confidence.”

Feature: I'm homeless, not hopeless_4
Hugh Freiberg (left) pays a visit to Ian at his makeshift home on the river. Photo by Alan Campbell - Alan Campbell


Stretching out the meals

As part of the food aid program, Freiberg has access to four community meal stations a week, from which he takes out 25 hot meals to distribute to homeless and/or at-risk people scattered around Richmond.

St. Alban’s outreach community makes sandwiches for another of the blank days, which Freiberg tries to stretch out over the weekend.

“I have people in parks, on the farm roads, by the river, Ironwood, some are squatting,” he said.

Ian said he’s been offered shared accommodation in the past, but it would be, he added, with “drug-infested roommates.”

“I would go downhill fast. I don’t want to expose myself to that. Out here, I can control it a bit more. I do smoke dope, occasionally crack cocaine,” he said.

“I’m ashamed of it, but I’m not bloody proud of it.”

If Freiberg wasn’t bringing Ian hot meals, it would likely be Mr. Noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“I live in this situation, almost by choice, because I’ve eliminated the headaches of life, such as bills,” admitted Ian, who grew up in Richmond and worked in construction for 25 years, as a foreman.

Ian has a family but, for multiple reasons, including drug abuse, he lost everything, family and friends, and ended up living in a car.

He’s not sure if he’ll see the day when he ever returns to a degree of “normal life,” as he called it.

In the meantime, he’s thankful for a few “normal” meals to keep him keeping on.


Can you help?

To help save the program, the Richmond Food Aid Delivery Coalition is hosting a cross-faith community meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Garratt Wellness Centre, 7504 Chelsea Place.

For more information, contact Chimo by email at dsugars@chimoservices.com or call 604-279-7077.

Feature: I'm homeless, not hopeless_3
June Humphreys is a volunteer worker with the Outreach and Advocacy Program at Chimo Community Services. She is pictured helping with the Richmond Food Aid Delivery Program, which takes 25 hot meals a day out to the city's homeless community


Coalition trying to save food delivery program for Richmond's homeless

It’s almost as if they could smell the food coming from a distance.

Within a few minutes of the “Friday Lunch” arriving, about a dozen or so people of all shapes, sizes, cultures and creeds were lining up at the park near Richmond’s City Centre district.

Among them were pensioners, immigrants and “regular folks,” including one guy from Alberta who used to hold down a decent job.

Most of them are homeless, many have fallen between society’s cracks for whatever reason, sometimes mental health issues, sometimes substance misuse, occasionally both.

However, the most disturbing and most recent “client” to appear at the drop-in lunch provided by St. Alban Anglican Church’s community outreach program is a woman in her late twenties.

“She’s about four months pregnant; she’s homeless,” said Dianne Woodhouse, a volunteer outreach and advocacy nurse with St. Alban, as the young woman sat down with her meal on a step, next to her guitar-playing partner.

“We’re working to try and secure housing for her. We know where they ‘live,’ we’re just trying to get services for them.”

Yes, you’re right, check back to the start of this story — this is Richmond.

And if you think it doesn’t get any lower, you’d be wrong.

The aforementioned characters are, to a certain extent, the lucky ones, for want of a better phrase.

Feature: I'm homeless, not hopeless_2
Richmond Food Aid Delivery Coalition members (from left) Susan Johnson, De Whalen and Dianne Woodhouse help out at a community meal for the homeless near the centre of the city. The coalition was formed two months ago to help save a vital food program and now seeks cross-faith support. Photo by Alan Campbell


Cross-faith support badly needed

There are many more unfortunate souls, dozens of them, scattered around the width and breadth of Richmond, in woods, under bridges, squatting or in make-shift homes.

They won’t risk going to ­— or can’t physically get to — such hot meal hand-outs, of which there is usually one a day provided by various church groups across the city.

It’s a critical hole in a fragile community service that’s been filled over the years by St. Alban and Hugh Freiberg, who was employed by the church, as part of its Food Aid Delivery Program, to get the meals out to such vulnerable members of the community.

The church had been running the program for five years and had been carrying the cost of getting Freiberg out to those people and build relationships with them; not just to feed them, but to connect them to the services and the broader help they badly need.

However, the church couldn’t fund the program any longer and it will die early in the New Year without wider support.

Richmond non-profit Chimo Community Services, with the help of some other local churches, is keeping the program afloat until the end of the year.

In a bid to keep the food delivery lifeline running and make it more sustainable in the longer term, Chimo, local anti-poverty advocates and the church community formed the Richmond Food Aid Delivery Coalition two months ago.

But it’s not enough to form a coalition and simply hope for the best.

They need help, badly — and next week they’re targeting the greater faith community across the city to plead for volunteer and financial support to keep the likes of Freiberg on the road.

“Most of the faiths that have come forward thus far are (Christian),” said the coalition’s De Whalen.

“But we want to broaden the scope and get everyone in the community involved, not just the faith community.”

Susan Johnson, coalition secretary, said Freiberg is their bridge to the homeless. “He’s a bridge with food.

“He starts to build relationships with people and, over time, sometimes they say, ‘OK, I can trust you.’ It can take years to build that.”

Whalen said the coalition doesn’t have a problem getting food in, the problem is with wages and things such as insurance for the delivery car.

“We want the program to at least continue and then, perhaps, grow, but we need community partners.”

The coalition is hosting the cross-faith community meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Garratt Wellness Centre, 7504 Chelsea Place.

For more information, contact Chimo by email at dsugars@chimoservices.com or call 604-279-7077.

Feature: I'm homeless, not hopeless_1
Volunteers turn up at a central Richmond park with food for St Alban's Friday lunch program for the homeless in Richmond

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