Interview with Evelyn from NightShift Street Ministries
Marielle and Rachel from the Lighthouse team interviewed Evelyn from NightShift StreetMinistries. The organization works in Surrey, BC, serving the street people in that region. Please consider visiting their website to offer your support or time.
Marielle & Rachel: How did NightShift Street Ministries come to be?
Evelyn: (taken from the website) During a blinding white snowstorm in the Lower Mainland in winter 2004, MaryAnne Connor got vision— not only into her own heart, but also into the desperate hearts of those she previously avoided— the street people of Surrey, BC. The course of her life, and countless others, was about to be dramatically altered. A highly successful real estate marketer, Connor paced the floor of her home that night, with one question plaguing her mind: “Where are they sleeping tonight?”
She soon found herself serving peanut butter sandwiches and handing out blankets from a Surrey church in the middle of the night, crammed with cold, hungry street people clinging to whatever warmth they could find. That night would be the first of thousands that Connor (known fondly to her friends as “Mac”) and a small faithful team would meet, serve and pray for those living on Surrey’s inner city streets
From those first winter nights of street outreach, NightShift was born. Named partly for the hours in which emergency care happened, NightShift also reflects the shift that happens in our hearts when we begin to serve needy people in our communities. Since its inception in 2004, NightShift has consistently provided not only hot soup and sandwiches, but love, hope and purpose to people caught in the cycle of poverty and addiction. NightShift Street Ministries is today known as the organization on the front lines of outreach and care for the vulnerable, addicted and homeless people in Surrey.
M&R: What is the ministry’s mission?
Evelyn: Our mission statement is “To love unconditionally and help each other find hope and purpose.”
M&R: How did the Street Walk (evening outreach) evolve?
Evelyn: Every night of the year, we serve a hot meal out in our parking lot from the side of a serving truck. Meals are served at 7 pm sharp. Teams assemble between 6:15-6:30 to prepare for service. We serve an average of 100 people every night. Our meals are made in a wide variety of settings, like church kitchens, Pacific Life Bible College. Businesses also sponsor some of the meals.
M&R: Do you still have volunteers that walk around and distribute hot chocolate to street friends?
Evelyn: Yes, we have groups like the AOK (Acts of Kindness) teams. Our Surrey team is from Summit Bible College and our Langley team is from Trinity Western University. They go around the streets to chat and pray with people, to give out hot drinks and cookies.
M&R: What other services do you provide?
Evelyn: On Tuesday nights we have an art class from 5:30-6:30. Wednesday nights we have Bible study, where we sometimes show a Christian movie. We have partnered with a local eye specialist who runs our eye clinic 4-5 times a year. We are going to provide hearing testing starting next week at our hearing clinic. Twice a week, the Care Bus is scheduled to go out. It is staffed by volunteers, nurses, and paramedics. We are at a premium for nurses, so we are busy recruiting nurses for our Care Bus. They tend to superficial wounds and prescribe over-the-counter medications in limited quantities to seeing somebody through a cold or that sort of thing. They provide vitamins as well. We also have service where we provide emergency clothing. We provide dry clothes and shoes to people who are living on the streets and have nothing. We have also have an Extreme Weather Shelter Program for women. In the winter seasons, we provide shelter for women. They stay from 7pm to 7am.
M&R: Are you in need of more clothing donations?
Evelyn: We get regular donations, but we will never turn down donations. For a while we were getting large sized jeans, but the women we serve do not have a very healthy lifestyle so they are very tiny.
M&R: Do you need donations of food?
Evelyn: Yes, we need donations of non-perishable food, such as peanut butter and jam, tins of tuna, anything that can be used to make soups with. We always start with fresh homemade soups but sometimes find that we need to add canned soup to be able to serve everyone.
M&R: Are you looking for more volunteers to help with any or all your programs?
Evelyn: Yes, we are. All volunteers must go through our volunteer training. Those are posted on our website. We have an orientation pretty much once a month. It is training, but it is focused on policy and procedure for evening outreach. Through this training, you will become a badged volunteer. Also, once every few months we have Forge Training, where it is more in-depth. It starts Friday evening and continues all day Saturday. We have a variety of speakers like former drug enforcement officers, psychologists, mental health workers, former street workers. The next training event is on June 21-22. Details are on the website.
M&R: What do you do?
Evelyn: Volunteer outreach coordination.
M&R: How have you seen the work done through this ministry make a difference?
Evelyn: It’s hard to measure that because we don’t really know. I can tell you that there is this man who comes to outreach every night and told me one evening that his life was changed by the prayer circle that was held at the end of every outreach.
M&R: Do you have any programs that raise awareness to inform the community of the needs or anything on that side of prevention?
Evelyn: You know, it’s very hard because people do know, and some people don’t want to know. Some of the businesses in the area are adverse to what we do, because they feel we attract a different element to the area— one which is not conducive to their business. They are worried that the people who come to us will prevent customers from visiting their businesses, but there is nothing to be afraid of. I feel very safe walking around here at night.
M&R: What has been your favorite part of working here?
Evelyn: My favorite part is the Women’s Extreme Weather Shelter. My dream is to have a year-round women’s shelter. This shelter wouldn’t necessarily be a transition home, but a shelter. There are stories from women who make us think that we’ve done it right. One of them was from this lady who stayed with us a two winters ago and is now in a modular housing unit. She came to me last fall and told me that she’s going to miss our cozy nights in the shelter. Another lady from 2 years ago is housed in Chilliwack. She has her own suite, but she came for a visit hoping she would run in to the workers at the shelter from 2 years ago. She wanted to say hello and connect. This made me realize that these women have good memories of our shelter, so we did it right. This year, one of the ladies told me that “it’s going to really suck once the weather starts getting warm because your shelter will close”. These make me feel that we are doing something right and that we are able to make the women feel the way we wanted them to feel while they were here.
M&R: How do you help individuals who express their desire to leave their old lifestyle?
Evelyn: I have one of my friends who’s in a transition house right now and is now ready to go into recovery. I just don’t know how she’s going to manage it. I’ve made some calls today and hopefully will see somebody in the morning. This woman has been long entrenched in the drug lifestyle and street working. She looks like she’s 90, but she’s not yet 60 years old. She’s bent over, huddled. A few weeks ago at the end of the shelter season, I and my shelter workers held a spa day here with hairstylists, make-up artists, and manicurists. I went to pick her up for this event from the transition house. As she was getting into my car, one of her regular clients came looking for her. He gave her his cell number so she could call her once she was finished at the spa activity. When she left, she forgot the phone number in my car. It’s very hard. That is the life they know and there has been a lot of damage from the constant substance abuse to shut out this lifestyle of abuse of the body and person by other human beings. How do you recover? A few weeks ago, we lost one of the men who lives on the street. This guy could quote Scripture like anybody’s business. He was a drug user and he died of an overdose. I think that he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. When I received the news that he had died, I thought, “what was his hope in his life?”. I have now doubt that he’s with Jesus, but there was no hope in his life. His only hope was that he will be with Jesus when he died. His mental capacity had long since gone because of the drugs he had used.
M&R: These stories of you interacting with people, it seems like one of the hardest things about this job. How do you and everyone you work with keep yourselves from burning out?
Evelyn: It is a high burnout environment. You know what, if I wasn’t a Christian I don’t know how I would do it. I don’t. But you know what, this is where God wants me for now, so He’s going to give me the strength to be here for now. That’s just what I trust. He will make it possible for me to go on.