You’ve already started to help the homeless

You say you feel guilty as you did not do anything to alleviate the suffering from the ‘lost souls’. However, what you did was huge.

Editor, The News:

Re: Lost souls wander our streets (Letters, Jan. 25).

Sandy Macdougall, thank you for having the courage to write your letter. Your story warms my heart, because you have already started to help the homeless without even knowing it.

You say you feel guilty as you did not do anything to alleviate the suffering from the ‘lost souls’. However, what you did was huge.

For some reason, that day,  you shifted your thinking and saw the homeless in Maple Ridge as people first rather than part of our landscape. You saw the man outside McDonald’s as a person who matters, a person with soul. Perhaps next time you will offer him a coffee, or perhaps you will look him in the eyes and say a warm hello.

Three years ago, I felt the same way as you and wondered how I could help the homeless feel empowered and a part of the community. I am a vice-principal at a Coquitlam high school, and together with a team of amazing students, we embraced on what was meant to be a one-day field trip, giving the homeless a chance to give. We invited them to send hand-made cards home to friends or family they have lost touch with. It was our way of giving the homeless a chance to give during the holidays.

Our hope was to help one person re-connect with family or friends and find hope.  We also began volunteering weekly in the Tri-Cities wet mat homeless shelter program. Almost immediately, the students and I were overwhelmed with emotion as we realized that the people in our community who are homeless are people like you and me. Many of them have experienced great hardships in life and they have been outcast by society. As we got to know them, and truly listened to their life stories, we were moved to do more and help them re-connect.

Our one-day field trip three years ago has now turned into a year-round commitment, called Project HELLO (Helping everyone locate loved ones). On our website (www.projecthello.ca) you can read stories and reflections from our students.

As of this December, our high school students have now helped re-connect more than 200 homeless people in the Tri-Cities and Downtown Eastside with family and friends through Christmas cards, Mother’s Day cards, phone calls and a face-to-face reunion. The entire experience has been one of the best things to ever happen to me.

I have spent time giving presentations with our students and talking with others to start similar programs in Hawaii, Ontario and Richmond. Yet each day I leave Maple Ridge in the morning and return after work and I, too, had not yet stopped to see the homeless in our community in a different light.

Your letter opened my eyes wider and I asked my husband right after reading it, why we had not thought to expand project HELLO to the homeless in our own community.

My goal will be to make a connection with a high school in Maple Ridge in hopes that a team of students will want to learn more and help offer similar experiences in our community.

Kristi Blakeway, vice-principal

Dr. Charles Best Secondary