I was on the phone with Raylene from CBC as I drove up to the office.
Two forty in the afternoon, and still a good number of people waiting in line on the sidewalk for food, hygiene items and clothing,
It was around -32 Celsius with the wind chill. Environment Canada had just put out their third weather warning in less than two weeks.
People parted the way as I crossed the sidewalk to park behind the building, and I continued my conversation with Raylene.
Staff, in full PPE, approached the car as I completed the call. I rolled down my window. “Mark is out front looking for you. Says he knows you. Do you know a Mark?” she asked. “Maybe,” I said, “What’s happening?”
“Mark’s toes are black from frostbite. What are we going to do?”
I thought for a moment, “We’ll take him to the clinic right away.”
I donned my mask, and we walked the laneway to the street. Moving through the crowd to the door and chair where upon Mark was seated.
“Hey Mark,” I said, “Haven’t seen you for a while. What’s happening?”
Mark, like most who live outside all the time, sported a parka that was puffed out with many layers of clothing: sweatshirt, t-shirt, hoodie, light jacket, maybe another light jacket or two, probably every piece of clothing he owned, topped with a winter parka. Toque, mitts, scarf and a couple of plastic bags on the chair beside him with some newly acquired provisions from our Street Level Door Outreach.
“My toes got frostbite,” he said. “They’re pretty sore. My buddy lost three toes last week. He is very sore. I don’t want to lose my toes.”
“Have you been to the clinic,” I asked.
“Yes, they looked at my feet and put some gauze and spray on my toes and sent me to the Civic Hospital. I didn’t wait long, only about three hours, and the doctor told me to keep them warm, not walk on them very much and they should be OK. My toes are black.”
“I have an appointment at another drop in tomorrow at eleven. They might be able to help. The doctor didn’t even give me anything for pain. It’s really sore.”
“Good you went to get help,” I replied. “Looks like you scored some good boots.” He had new thermal hikers, the good kind, probably retail around $200.
“Yes, today a lady stopped to talk, saw my sneakers, found out about my toes, and told me she would buy me some boots. No, I said, I’m OK. God will provide. I told her that three times. God will provide. She bought them for me anyhow.”
“Maybe God did provide through her,” I replied.
“How can we help?” I asked, “What do you need?”
“Pain killers mostly. Do you have any gauze?”
“I’ll be right back. Kimberly, our outreach worker will stay with you.”
I found the First Aid Kit, some gauge, tensor bandage, and antiseptic packs and went back outside. “How’s this?” “Great, thanks,” he answered.
We talked for a while about the ‘old days’ at the drop in, when we played chess and laughed (he was housed then), and when I offered to pray for him, he readily agreed.
All the help we give to people in need, the ‘basic necessities’ of food, drink and clothing, pale in comparison to the value of relationship. That we know people’s names and their stories, that they come to us and we come to them to connect through outreach – even in the midst of pandemic – is such a huge gift.
No question: people need help in many areas, and the friendship and personal connection is perhaps the most important of all.
We will follow up with Mark and keep in contact. Please keep him, and others on the streets, in your prayers.
~Ken, Executive Director