Fifteen years ago, it wasn’t MaryAnne Connor’s plan to start a ministry organization.
“When I think about that first day when that I ended up in Whalley in the midst of a snowstorm, really honestly not expecting what I would encounter and then to look back 15 years later… how did we ever get this far? It wasn’t my plan to start a ministry organization,” said Connor, NightShift Street Ministries founder and president.
“It’s more than a little surprising,” she added.
On Sept. 15, from 1 to 3 p.m., the charity will be celebrating 15 years with a birthday barebecue at NightShift’s outreach lot (10635 King George Boulevard). RSVP for the barbecue at nightshiftministries.org/events.
The free event will include music, games, birthday cake and prizes.
“There’s some talk of a dunk tank,” Connor said with a laugh, “I don’t want to go in the dunk tank.”
The celebration, Connor said, will be for volunteers, donors and the people who NightShift helps.
“There’s no us and them,” said Connor, adding she doesn’t see that changing over the next 15 years.
Asked where she sees the ministry that far into the future, Connor said she asks herself the same question every day.
“Certainly, the homeless stats are not reducing, the fentanyl overdoses are out there… Our vision is outreach, education, counselling and transitional housing” she said. “I would love one day to be able to have our own housing that as we meet people on the street that we can take them by the hand and move them into short-term stabilization housing, blend them into long-term housing and then on the other side of that, one- to two-year programs to be able to put them into re-integration housing, so that they can eventually step out on their own.
“That’s been my dream from day one to be able to do transitional housing, so very much still the beacon that kind of keeps me going every day.”
Connor said she really found her purpose when she came to Whalley and started meeting the people that have become her friend over the years.
But sadly, she said, some have not made it. One is Denis, who Connor said died of an overdose in March of this year.
She said Denis became a friend and a brother to her.
“Some of them don’t make it and that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Asked if it makes it harder to continue doing the work she and others at NightShift do, Connor said: “It would be easy to give up. it would be easy to say, you know, ‘People are not moving, coming off the street, they’re not changing their lives as quickly as you and I would want them to be.’
“But they’re there for multiple reasons and I think it’s a societal problem, family breakdown, there are any people out there that are just broken and wounded and dealing with past abuse and complex trauma and they’re medicating. They’re just trying to dull or get rid of the pain and have just lost their way.”
NightShift’s mission is to “love unconditionally, which means we love people with no expectation of change – no judgment, we’re just going to love them the way they are,” Connor said.
Because many of the people NightShift serves are “totally disconnected” from their families, Connor said the ministry has become a sort of “makeshift family.”
“We’ve become their family. I just think that everybody has — you and me included — a sense that they need to belong, they’re lonely, and this has become a community. We’ve become a family,” said Connor, adding that part of it is the people wanting a warm bowl of soup at night, but it’s deeper than that because they feel “seen, valued and listened to.”
Over the years, NightShift has offered foot clinics, vision clinics, art classes and movie nights. The ministry also operates a food truck.
“We try to do more than just soup, right?”
Connor said part of the reason for releasing the report is because of the 15th anniversary celebration.
“We just kind of getting to that stage in our progression. We’re becoming more grown-up, let’s put it that way… We’re moving into our teens, we’re not crawling like babies,” she said.
The report, Connor said, has garnered a positive response.
“I think it’s the stories. People have an idea of what we do, but we’ve been more intentional over… the last while to share some of the stories because everybody that’s on the streets that we’re serving is a person and there’s a story behind the face that we see.”