Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 22, 1999
Coats for the homeless
By BYRON PRICE
Special to the WCR
There is a small organization in Calgary known as Hands of Charity. One of its founders and executive director is Lynn L'Heureux.
She, together with her husband Tony, is the motivating force. The organization took shape in 1994 when L'Heureux was organizing dinners for street people through Catholic Charities.
She realized the 500 or so people who came to the dinners were not all staying in shelters; they were living on the street. L'Heureux and her small group of six were concerned about these people.
They started talking with some of them and found out there were a number who were not obtaining services from other agencies. They also found out that about 20 per cent of these people were mentally challenged and in other times would be looked after in an institutional setting.
The street people were feeling alone and not trusting anybody. A number had been abused as children and felt that different organizations had written them off.
L'Heureux asked herself, "How can a small group of volunteers have any effect on the lives of these people?"
L'Heureux comments: "As a baptized Christian, I'm called to do what I can for the dispossessed. We know that Alberta winters can be cold and street people spend a lot of energy trying to get out of the wind and cold just to survive."
The group prayed and discerned. The idea that jumped into their minds was to give these people coats. Not any coat but special coats.
They obtained a design and made some adjustments to produce a wind-resistant coat for the Calgary climate.
The coats are fleece-lined inside, winter-proof to survive temperatures of minus 30. Waterproof on the outside and wind resistant. They are made extra large with an extra long torso.
This design enables a person to sleep in the coat much like a sleeping bag which will keep their head and feet warm. There is even a pillow in the neckline. The coats have a hood and come with several compartments so people can put their worldly possessions in their pockets.
The coat can be rolled into a backpack so it can be carried easily if a person is not wearing it. It can also be used as a seat.
L'Heureux says the street people report: "If our head and feet are warm, the rest of our body survives." In her experience, she says it is sometimes difficult to help these people as their trust has been so
wounded. It takes months and a large-time commitment. The only response may be a smile and a few words from the person you are trying to help.
L'Heureux's inspiration is Brother André of Montreal who had a great love for the poor.
When the person who is in need of a coat is chosen, Hands of Charity asks the CWL, the United Church or other groups to sew the coat for that person in need. The group sewing the coat also spiritually adopts the person. The members are told his or her name and the person knows that the people making them the coat will be praying for them.
One man was so touched that he began to cry when told that a Catholic school raised money so a coat could be made for him and that the children were praying for him. He is now off the street.
L'Heureux has acted upon Pope John XXIII's words from a Christmas broadcast in 1959: "It is utterly intolerable for Catholics to restrict themselves to the position of mere observers."
Hands of Charity has given away dozens of mitts and toques and around 50 coats since 1994. This time of year when it is cold and street people have no place to lie their heads, this small group of people is making Scripture and their baptismal vows live in a profound way.