Olive Murwin cried when she arrived at Souls Harbour Rescue Mission on Thursday morning. The night before, the Cunard Street shelter was in flames. The building suffered extensive damage and its six residents had to evacuate.
But the volunteer was crying tears of joy. What she saw that morning was an outpouring of support as people came to the mission in droves to drop off food. “I’m overwhelmed,” Murwin says. “People from far away that we don’t even know are coming forward.”
The community answered the call. Sandwiches, wraps, fruit, granola bars, juice boxes and chips piled up at a table outside the centre. When asked why they donated food, people’s answers were simple: they heard there was a need, so they filled it.
“We just saw on the news today that the shelter needed meals and people were hungry, so we decided to bring some food,” says Isaac Gray. “People need food, right?”
Businesses chipped in too. Cédric Toullec, owner of Lou Pécou, the restaurant across the street from Souls Harbour, brought over boxes of pizza, and Grant Wade from the Westin Hotel dropped off 50 sandwiches. Enough food was donated to give each guest two meals, and there were more to spare. Souls Harbour sent food to Salvation Army and Turning Point.
Guests gathered on the steps in front of Souls Harbour—the fire was at the back of the building—and enjoyed their lunches in the sun. At one point, everyone watched two eagles fly across the sky above the centre.
“I’m so grateful to this place,” says William Rose. “I can’t imagine my life without it.”
Nobody was hurt in the fire, and the shelter’s residents are staying at Chateau Bedford. Souls Harbour will continue serving meals outside while the building undergoes repairs. The kitchen could be open as early as next week, but it will be weeks before the shelter is safe to live in again.
Souls Harbour staff member Greg Martell says his main concern is for the shelter’s residents, who are in an addiction recovery program. “A lot of them came from the streets, and they finally got themselves into where they're hoping is a better place to help them with their recovery, and then this happens,” he says. “They can't even come in to, say, get their own clothing.”
The fire started just before 8pm Wednesday, May 11, on the shelter’s back deck and spread inside, destroying the emergency fire door. The building suffered smoke and water damage throughout. The scorched side contains a stairwell, and the dorms are on the other side. “It could have been a lot worse,” says Souls Harbour’s chief operating officer, Cherry Laxton. “Everybody got out safely. That's all that matters.”
Halifax Regional Fire says the blaze was accidentally caused by improperly discarded smoking materials. To “help continue to provide food and shelter through this crisis,” Souls Harbour has set up a fire fund on its website.