Lasha Morningstar

January 20, 2014

She pushes the curtains open with her black nose and stares out onto the snow-covered garden. Golden eyes dart as house sparrows, juncos, maybe a shy brown creeper flit amongst the feeders and bark buttered branches.

Watching her, I wonder what she is feeling, for this cat's past is a bittersweet one.

It was several years ago and an item by CBC's Mark Harvey caught my ear. He was talking about street people and their various ways of surviving Edmonton's brutal winter. His story at that moment told of how one man fashioned a shelter in a remote corner of an industrial area. A silent artist frightened by rough street life, Dave crafted this retreat for himself and his two cats. The female – he called her Skinny – had kittens and he worried they would be eaten by coyotes.

Dave survived by the warming vans regularly checking up on him, bringing the necessities of life to his solitary dwelling.

Remarking on how homey and peaceful Dave's shelter seemed, Mark told the morning show host he could still feel snowflakes falling down his neck.

The warming van folk contacted a cat rescue group in operation back then and found homes for the kittens.


I sent a box of supplies for Dave and his cats. Disaster struck one day when Dave's shelter was bulldozed. He asked the warming van people if I would take Skinny. I did.

Hospitals are filled with the homeless suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and other maladies.

Hospitals are filled with the homeless suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and other maladies.

What happened to Dave? I do not know. As the gentle-hearted head of the agency that checked up on Dave said, the staff who works with the homeless burn out quickly. The new ones would not know Dave. Dave's fear of potential street violence kept him away even from the warming shelters.

How would he keep warm? Eat? Where would he sleep? The crowded shelters terrified him. His cat is safe from the street. But I wonder about him . . . and all of the others.

Hospitals are crowded with frostbite, hypothermia and other maladies that ravage the homeless in the winter. One man, at the time of this writing, has been found dead – frozen to death.


Just driving past them as they huddle, hunched over, hands jammed in their pockets, waiting in line at the various soup kitchens, is graphic proof the clothes they wear cannot protect them from the brutal cold.

Witnesses usually have two responses to this sight – overwhelming sorrow or total disinterest.

"They made the choices that put them there," is a common refrain from people hurtling by in their toasty warm cars.

All I know is these men are suffering and are cold. One of the main places they found food, warmth and clothes was the House of Refuge Mission. Burned down in October, the directors are being thwarted by civic bureaucracy from building again.

Meanwhile, the Marian Centre continues to feed the hungry homeless a hearty lunch every day except Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. They share clothing on Fridays. What would they like to have in their cupboards to warm their Christophers (the name they call the men who come to their door)?


Top on the list – steel-toed boots. This gives the men the necessary footwear to apply for jobs. Winter boots keep the snow out. Hoodies, but not red please. Thick sweaters. Blue jeans of all sizes. Large sized gloves for the men's big hands. Men's underwear of all sizes. Long johns are especially welcomed. Warm jackets and coats.

Individual sized – just like you get in hotels – shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush – come in handy.

Keeping their belongings safe can be impossible without a home, so the centre welcomes backpacks for the men to tuck their clothing and valuables in. Added treats such as wallets are welcome.


Know too for most of these men, the riverbank is home. So candles are a treasure, especially the larger, long-lasting pedestal ones. They can provide heat and light in the dark of the frigid night.

Marian Centre is usually open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, save Wednesday and Sunday. They also shut down the last five days of the month. They advise to call first, especially if you are coming from out of town, to make sure they are indeed open – 780-424-3544.

Remember beloved Pope Francis's words written in his 2011 book Sobre el cielo y la tierra (On Heaven and Earth). "There should be no have-nots and I want to emphasize that the worst wretchedness is not to be able to earn your bread, not to have the dignity of work."

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)