He’s been homeless for about three years, and the Christmas season is by far the toughest time of the year, a 24-year-old man said yesterday.
“It’s getting cold outside, and it can be quite hectic and crowded in the shelters, so it’s stressful,” said Robert Dignard, who attends both the Ottawa Mission and the Salvation Army for services.
Still, Dignard is one of the luckier ones — he works at a restaurant in the ByWard Market and has family in the city who invite him to their homes for the holidays.
“And it helps to have the support of friends here,” he added at the Ottawa Mission’s annual community Christmas dinner yesterday.
For Ottawa resident Richard Muldovan, season stressors include getting enough money for Christmas gifts.
“I have a son, and this is a hard time for him right now,” he said. “Events like this make the season happier. You’re meeting friends here and the people (at the Mission) do a great job with this.”
Once again, the city’s biggest shelter stepped in to make the season brighter for anyone who may otherwise be alone for the holidays, or unable to afford a dinner with all the trimmings, hosting a dinner for 2,316 people yesterday.
While the numbers are down from Thanksgiving (2,760), this year’s Christmas dinner was a huge success compared to last Christmas, when the bus strike, combined with a snowstorm, reduced the number to 1,600 people, said shelter spokeswoman Shirley Roy.
“Everyone is welcome to come to our dinner,” said Diane Morrison, executive director of the Ottawa Mission.
Volunteers are at the heart of these community meals. And for 17-year-old Nick Scrivens, helping out at the shelter has become tradition.
For the last few years, the Ottawa resident has been working the Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners with his father and brother.
“It’s good to help the community,” he said.
“You develop such a connection with these individuals,” said longtime volunteer, Ottawa Police Supt. Mike Flanagan.
“It’s always great to volunteer here, but it’s extra special at Christmas,” he said. “There’s so much heart, such an outpouring from everyone here.”