'I walk around, make sure they stay awake and they stay alive,' said McPherson who was awarded for his efforts.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 2, 2023. It has since been updated.
Ernest McPherson wanders around Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, to keep himself and others warm on a cold winter night. He checks on two dozen people in different locations, such as alleys, dilapidated buildings, or vehicles. The 54-year-old homeless man feels compelled to watch over others in the same way a "guardian angel" watched over him last winter. "I walk around, make sure they stay awake and they stay alive," said McPherson. Meadow Lake has a population of 5,300 and doesn't have homeless shelters or any place for vulnerable people to stay warm. According to CBC, McPherson often provides them with warm clothing or takes them to 7-Eleven or an ATM lobby for a brief respite from the cold.
"It's like there's nowhere in the world for them and nobody wants them," McPherson said. "They're really happy when they see me come along, and I'm really happy to find them [alive] because it doesn't take long to freeze out here." Last winter, he almost froze to death in a –38°C snowstorm. "I lost direction and time… so I sat down for a minute, and thought I'd rest for a minute. I fell asleep," McPherson said. "I had a guardian angel that night. She came and kicked me in the foot." The reason no one died last year is that McPherson and a group of homeless people illegally occupied a vacant downtown hotel. McPherson, who dumpster-dives to earn money from recycling, collected $300 from friends to buy a truck camper.
"It's an ice box in there right now," he said, standing in the doorway of the camper. "Until there's a shelter, I'll be here, patrolling every night." Natanis Bundschuh, the manager of the local soup kitchen where McPherson eats lunch, is also an executive director of a non-profit Christian organization Meadow Lake Outreach Ministries. It only works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, but it offers free clothes and 100 hot meals every day. On a cold night, McPherson thawed out a woman, said Bundschuh. "She said, 'I would be dead if it was not for Ernie.'"
McPherson received the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Medal for his public service, reports CBC. He asked Bundschuh to drive him to the downtown Saskatoon hotel which was 250 kilometers from Meadow Lake. "It's awesome to see someone in our community receiving an honor like that for going above and beyond and caring for people that he doesn't have to care about, but he does," said Bundschuh. His story has helped to spur community action. The Meadow Outreach Ministries has opened a Door of Hope drop-in center, which is open 20 hours a day. There are no beds but people can sleep on chairs or the floor.
"It's a great honor to be recognized for everything that I've done to help the homeless in Meadow Lake," said McPherson. "I'm just so happy to be here today, to speak for them, to be recognized." Kirt Prete, the owner of PineRidge Ford auto dealership, donated $20,000 cash after leasing an old church to the coalition for $1. Al MacFarlane of Meadow Lake Properties donated $20,000 in materials and labor. The city also is allowing the shelter to have donated beds from old senior homes. "The best feedback I've had from major government organizations is, 'You guys are on the right track, you've done good things, you got business support, you got city support, you just gotta keep at it,'" said Bob Steeg, chair of the Meadow Lake Home Plate Coalition Corp.