Nightshift street ministries
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Whalley has a reputation for social needs. Panhandlers, sex workers and signs of homelessness abound in certain areas. Agencies, however, are cooperating as never before and there is some optimism as a result.

Nightshift Street Ministries was formed because of a snowstorm. Leader MaryAnne Connor, who owned a successful real estate, marketing and interior design company in Vancouver, had been volunteering in street ministry.

Her business was on the verge of breaking through into the lucrative American market, something she never experienced. She walked away.

"I knew God was calling me," she said. It was January 2004; Vancouver was hit with record cold and snowfall. The homeless were in crisis, in a dramatic way. Connor persuaded Gentle Shepherd Church in Whalley to throw open its doors to shelter people from the biting cold; 35 people slept inside. The city turned a blind eye to zoning issues for a month.

ConnorÕs involvement as an organizer and leader increased. By spring, she shut down her business, to focus more fully on what soon became a nightly outing to the streets of Whalley. People in up to 10 diverse Surrey churches volunteered their time, and Nightshift was born.

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"Nightshift is so much more than soup," she said. "For three years, every night, we coordinate 15 or so volunteers that come from five or six different Surrey churches; 100 - 150 people are served nightly 365 days of the year." They gather at 107 Avenue and 135 Street, 6:30 - 8:30 pm.

Whalley-area Staff Sergeant Barry Hickman, a 35-year RCMP veteran, oversees all of City CentreÕs policing operations. He is responsible for developing knowledge and understanding of the types of crime and public safety challenges affecting the district.

Commenting on Nightshift at a recent welcome lunch Hickman said: "WeÕre all one big team, spiritually connect- ing people [as Nightshift does]. They are doing a great work." He concluded his comments by turning to Connor, putting an arm around her and affectionately teasing her as "high maintenance" - a term she readily accepts!

For more information, call 604-953-1114.

- Peter Biggs

May 2007