It's feeling a lot like Christmas at Morberg House, haven for the homeless
Kids, nuns, local shops gathering Christmas presents for new St. Boniface neighbours
The house is full, presents are under the tree, and the stockings are hung on the wall at Morberg House. A group of men sit in the kitchen drinking coffee and eating Christmas dainties.
It's a scene Marion Willis could never have imagined four months ago when the home for the homeless opened its doors at 311 Provencher Boulevard in St. Boniface. Willis is the founder of St. Boniface Street Links and the executive director of Morberg House.
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"The extent to which the business community, local organizations and religious groups have embraced St. Boniface Street Links and particularly this house is beyond belief. There is something very divine about this," said Willis. "I believe it is providence."
The list of offers to help — to do just about anything — is long and extensive.
A Grade 6 class in St. Boniface sold their old toys and used the money to buy gifts for the men who live at Morberg House. Another Grade 6 class from Windsor Park made personal cards for each resident along with gift cards.
Students from St. Boniface University offered to make Christmas dinner. But when they realized someone else had beaten them to the punch, they decided to take the money and put it towards presents.
Several religious orders in the community have made substantial monetary donations. Nuns have knitted socks and scarves and hats.
Voyageur Windows in St. Boniface is replacing all the windows and installing new ones for free. the local No Frills grocery store has been providing food on a daily basis. There are also donations of furniture and premium chocolate from Constance Popp, as well as produce from local farmers.
The donations go beyond old north St. Boniface. They are coming in from Windsor Park and Sage Creek in Winnipeg as well as Warren and Brandon, Man.
Twenty-two-year-old Austin Saunders moved in a week and a half ago. He has been struggling with depression and has been in and out of hospitals after several suicide attempts. He couldn't find help anywhere until he met Marion Willis at a Tim Hortons.
"Its amazing. The guys are really nice. I have a close friend. I belong here. And because it is staffed 24/7, if I am down I can just go and talk to one of the staff," said Saunders.
Saunders said he had been in the care of CFS since he was 12. He said he could find no mental health supports in Winnipeg for the homeless and he couldn't get access to a psychiatrist on the street. Now that he is at Morberg House and has a doctor, he has a referral to see a psychiatrist.
For the first time in years, he feels his depression lifting. He said if it wasn't for Morberg House, he would have been alone at Christmas with nowhere to go.
"I have been happier since I got here. There are people to talk to. I have friends. This is the first place I actually got support."
In an upstairs bedroom, 22-year-old Matthew Bighetty works on a comic illustration with charcoal. After months of couch surfing, he now has a bed to call his own. Morberg House, he says, is a reprieve from violence and life on the street.
"Nobody confronts you over anything. Everybody respects each other's personal space. It's a home where you respect other people and yourself," said Bighetty.
For the first time in years, Bighetty feels he has direction in his life.
"I feel like I have never really had goals or plans set up for myself. Now they are trying to help me upgrade my education, get my driver's license and do illustration," he said.
The young man says he likes to help out with chores and cooking at Morberg. His uncle, who also lives in the house, has a small paint studio on the third floor. Leonard Bighetty creates original works, and some he said have even been used for curriculum material in Manitoba schools.
Remembering those on the street
There will be a traditional Christmas dinner at Morberg House after opening gifts.
Some residents are excited their family will be joining them.
But Willis said the dozens of homeless still on the street in St. Boniface aren't forgotten. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Windsor Park has made winter bags that include everything that someone sleeping outside would need: a sleeping bag, fleece blankets and shirts, woolen socks, mitts, scarves and hats. The bags went out earlier this month during the cold snap.
"These winter bags have saved lives," said Willis.
Morberg House wants to thank everyone for their generosity.
"It's going to be a fantastic Christmas," said Willis. "We are so looking forward to it."