MaryAnne Connor has heard many people cry, but she’s never heard the type of wailing she did from Cheryl in 2007.
In a world of hurt, suffering from cancer, AIDS and addiction, Cheryl was unburdening a life of pain.
Three days later, she was dead.
It was at that point, Connor, or MAC as her friends call her, decided feeding the homeless wasn’t enough.
The head of Nightshift Street Ministries decided it was time to put her dream of villages for recovery from drugs and alcohol into action.
“How many Cheryls have died since then?” she asks.
Beginning this weekend, four people will be moving into a test house for recovery in South Surrey on a four-acre parcel of land.
The treatment plan is simple, using the same method Connor has employed since she started working with the homeless in 2004: Love people until they learn to love themselves.
From the trial house in South Surrey, NightShift is planning a Care Cottage Community on Bible Fellowship property at 64 Avenue and 150 Street (pictured left). Modelled after a transitional care community on Whitbey Island, Washington, the centre is designed to help people in various stages of “brokenness” to integrate back into society, Connor explains.
Still in the planning stages, the number of cottages depends on the size of stream setbacks from Hyland Creek and other density requirements.
Connor plans to meet with city planners shortly before bringing a development proposal to council.
The project is a long way from Connor’s humble beginnings in 2004, when her goal was simply to feed the homeless and share the Christian word of God with them.
Back then, she operated out of the front of a church, and when that came to the attention of the city, NightShift was ushered out.
Now, NightShift has a 4,000-sq.-ft. office space on King George Boulevard that accommodates a boardroom, kitchen, counselling offices and Sisters clothing consignment (which now has its own iPhone app in which clothing can be reserved for purchase).
Connor, who avoids the limelight at all costs, is the braintrust behind the mission.
Before 2004, she was a high-end realtor living in White Rock. Eventually, she could no longer reconcile how she had a warm place to live, when so many did not.
She gave up her practice and went full time into feeding the homeless.
But she says God has told her to dream big. And that she has.
Beyond the local Care Cottage, she has a Care Village in the works in Fort St. John.
She has the use of 580 acres of property, provided by the South Fork Christian Society, and has several three- and four-bedroom buildings, which are currently being retrofitted. It will be a working retreat, where people can learn cooking skills, carpentry, and other life skills.
Connor works non-stop reaching out to people willing to give of their time, ideas and where possible, donations.
Not long ago, she was telling someone about the Fort St. John property and he asked, “How are you going to get them there?”
She thought bus was the most suitable and affordable way.
Nonsense, he said, I’ve got a six-seater plane for you.
Connor says she couldn’t have dreamed of having things fall into place as they are.
And she thanks God she didn’t let her analytical thinking get in the way.
“If I had thought this through, I wouldn’t have done it,” she says.
“Do I regret it? Not for a second.”