Fire Destroys House of Refuge
Boyle Street soup kitchen and mission rising from the ashes in a temporary location.
House of Refuge, a soup kitchen and non-denominational Christian mission on 10339A 95 Street, was destroyed in a fire on October 19. The fire began at around 2:30 a.m., and swept through the building, reducing it to a pile of rubble by the time firefighters got it under control a few hours later. Foul play was not suspected as a cause of the fire.
House of Refuge served between 50 and 200 people every evening when the mission was open between 5 and 9 p.m. Sunday was the busiest evening, according to board member Linda Dumont.
“We served a snack at 5 p.m., then a meal of soup and sandwiches after the evening service at 8 p.m.,” she says. “We served people who were turned away from other places that served meals because they were intoxicated, or under the influence of drugs. In addition to food, people were able to get personal care items, and care packages of food, clothing, and blankets. We operated as the first level off the street. No one was turned away.”
Thim Choy is the owner of the land upon which House of Refuge was situated, as well as the building itself which was leased to the society operating the mission. Choy, who is also the President of the Boyle Street Community League, said that the people who used the mission gathered around throughout the day after the fire, “some in tears as they don’t want to go elsewhere for the meal. Some said, ‘I want to be here’ because we treat them like human beings.”
At the same time, House of Refuge was viewed with ambivalence by others in the area. In particular, there were complaints of patrons’ disorderly behaviour by those living across the street in the YMCA Welcome Village. “There may be some who don’t like the House of Refuge, but our bottom line is to give them a meal and the Gospel before they go to bed. I know it’s so important because I’ve been there, done that, and that’s what God sent us to do,” says Choy.
The mission’s Board of Directors met on October 22, along with Thim Choy. As a temporary solution, Choy offered the use of the parking area of his business Edmonton Cash Register which is across from the former mission site, on the south west corner of 103A Avenue and 95 Street. Services, followed by a meal of soup and sandwiches, started on October 25 and are intended to be held there seven days a week from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“Weather is a factor and we’ll continue to do so as long as we can, or until we find a new facility,” says Bob Vandergrift, Vice President of House of Refuge.
Choy is currently looking for another building in the Boyle Street area. The burned building was insured for $375,000 but building regulations will not permit rebuilding on the same lot. Insurance will also pay some towards replacement of cooking utensils, tables and chairs, office equipment, janitorial equipment, and the sound system.
House of Refuge is run by volunteers, receives no government funding, and is supported through private donations. “We had people working off fines through community service helping out with the meal preparation, serving, and clean up,” Dumont says.
The mission has been serving the poor for 50 years and was registered as a non-profit company about 30 years ago. It was in several different locations before moving to Choy’s building in 2004. Last year, Brazilian artist Panmela Castro visited Edmonton to paint an original mural on the south side of the building.
On November 1 another fire occurred at the remains of House of Refuge’s original location. This time, the cause was believed to be arson.
Donations to House of Refuge can be made through the website: www.refugemission.com.