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When Paul Holmes, a retired letter carrier, began walking the North End with his backpack, he was 54 years old. Instead of mail, he gave away bus tickets, helped folks make phone calls, and handed out lots of muffins—not knowing at the time that there’s usually a surplus of muffins on the street. “Like they really needed more food devoid of nutrition!” he laughs. Now 62, he favours casseroles.
Eight years ago, a person close to him was in danger of winding up on the streets. At the time, Holmes had prayed that there would be people to help him out. Eventually, he was surprised to find himself walking up and down Gottingen Street, making friends and helping folks out however he could.
Bus tickets and phone calls are still part of Grace Street Mission’s mandate. Its work also includes help in recovery, court attendance, washrooms, access to anger management programming, job and housing support, and one-on-one counselling.
Friendship and hospitality, however, remain the Mission’s focus. “We always have something in the fridge if anyone’s hungry,” says Holmes. “But there are also plenty of other places to find nutritious food in the
city.” Rather, the Mission, located at the corner of Gottingen and Cornwallis Streets, is primarily a place for folks to “hang out, have a coffee, a conversation and lots of encouragement.”
Holmes knows that the most important thing he can give away is friendship and love to those who need it: “The reality is that if your parents were addicts, and their parents before them…you can’t go to school and act like the other kids.” An addict living on the streets lives in a different reality—a reality that is tough for support workers to break into. But relationships are powerful.