Guardian reporter seeks shelter

Jim Day spends quiet night at Bedford MacDonald House

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 30, 2015

Guardian reporter Jim Day spent a quiet night at the Bedford MacDonald House in Charlottetown recently.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

The phoney arrives.

It’s roughly 5:25 p.m. when I show up at the men’s shelter in Charlottetown Wednesday looking to spend the night.

My watch, wedding ring and gold chain all left at home. No overnight bag. Just the clothing (drawn from my gruffer attire) on my back.

Lloyd, the night supervisor, was expecting me, the reporter.

He still did his best to play along, treating me like he would any of the homeless who show up at the door of The Salvation Army Bedford MacDonald House on any given evening.

HISTORY OF BEDFORD MACDONALD HOUSE

I fill in the obligatory form that seeks information such as medical conditions, substance abuse addictions, and referral, whether by police, social services, corrections, self or other.

I was given a lengthy set of shelter rules to read, then to follow.

SOME OF THE NOTABLE RULES AT BEDFORD MACDONALD HOUSE

The grand tour was next.

I had been offered a good look at the place in the past prior to the facility re-opening in late December 2012, but the shelter certainly takes on a different appearance and feel when you know you are going to be spending the night — and you are left wondering how many homeless people will be sharing the facility with you and just what kind of interaction, if any, is in store.

The shelter can accommodate nine men with seven beds and two roll-away cots. A full house like that, I thought, might make for an intriguing night — perhaps even a rather uncomfortable, intimidating one.

Would I be sized up as a fake? Would I unintentionally offend? Would I be harassed, possibly harmed?

The night would turn out to be tame and uneventful.

First, I make my bed from the neatly folded sheets, pillowcase and thin wool blanket. The bed, which is slightly shorter than me, almost stretches the length of the tiny, tight room. A small plastic garbage receptacle completes the furnishings.

I head downstairs to the large common area, plop down on a soft couch, and flip on a large, flat screen TV.

Television, a book, and a pleasant chat with Lloyd would eat away the next five plus hours before I set off to sleep on not the most comfortable of beds.

Regrettably, I am not able to experience the shelter with the presence of homeless people on this particular night.

I am able, however, to allow my mind to wander into that rather chilling ‘what if’ scenario. What if I should be debilitated by a mental illness, consumed by addiction or simply fall on hard financial times, being left a homeless person?

What if?

History of the Salvation Army Bedford MacDonald House

Finding a place to put Bedford MacDonald House following its conception in the late 1980s was a struggle with a prevailing not-in-my-backyard opposition hampering efforts.

Lack of funds also resulted in the shelter being shut down in 1997. The shelter reopened in May 2004 in its current location on Weymouth Street in Charlottetown.

The board closed the facility in June 2011 after Everett Gallant, a convicted pedophile hired to watch over the shelter, was charged with sexually assaulting a homeless man who had been staying at the shelter. Gallant was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to serve three years in jail.

A number of churches formed an ad hoc working group to work alongside the Bedford MacDonald board to reopen the shelter in December 2011 but the facility was closed again at the end of September 2012.

Backed by a $200,000 donation from a local businessman, the Salvation Army was able to reopen the homeless shelter in December 2012.

The Salvation Army has been operating the shelter without interruption since.

Stay by the rules

The Salvation Army Bedford MacDonald House men’s shelter has a number of rules to follow concerning registration, housekeeping, conduct and miscellaneous items.

Here are a few of the more notable ones:

— Clients must be 19 or older.

— Clients must show valid picture ID or could be subject to a police check.

— Clients may leave the shelter at any time, but once they do they may not re-enter the facility until the registration the following night.

— Showering is only permitted in the evenings and all clients must shower.

— All medication is to be handed into staff upon entering the shelter.

— Persons under the influence of any intoxicant will not be permitted in the shelter.

— No person is permitted to be in possession of any firearm or potential weapon while at the shelter.

— Check in is from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and check out is at 7:30 a.m.

ANY GIVEN NIGHT

• Homeless in Sydney - Cape Breton Post

• No home, not sure where to go - The News

• Warm reception on a cold night - Truro Daily News

• Home free - Journal Pioneer

• Homelessness is a lonely street - The Western Star

• Lessons in generosity - The Telegram

• You can't fake homelessness - The Telegram

• A night in a cold tent is not homelessness - The Digby Courier