I have sad news. Last week we learned that Friendship Shelter’s beloved founder, Colin Henderson, passed away peacefully in his home in England on July 26, 2022. All of us at Friendship Shelter are saddened at this loss and immeasurably grateful for the opportunity to remember the impact Colin had on our organization, our community, and the thousands of people whose lives have been transformed by the work he started.
Colin did not like the title “founder.” He wore it reluctantly and never missed an opportunity to remind us that there were many important leaders and champions who were instrumental in starting Friendship Shelter. He was particularly sensitive to this because his beloved wife Elin was a big part of that early group, and it was no doubt her strength and resolve that fueled him in those early years. He was right about our beginnings, but it’s equally true that Colin alone provided sustained, energetic and loving leadership throughout Friendship Shelter’s history.
He did not seek out this work, but it found him when he was newly employed as a priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Beach, and he recognized the call. He began, as anyone who does this work should, by listening to the people experiencing homelessness themselves. And then he rolled up his sleeves and got to work. Everything Friendship Shelter is today grew out of that. It’s why, today, we remain an organization that leads with love and understanding and focuses on problem-solving.
Ultimately Colin and the other volunteers saw that using a church as a shelter was unsustainable – and together with other community leaders sought to create a permanent shelter in town. That’s when our flagship location on South Coast Highway was identified and secured. These early advocates solicited and received City funding and approval, and Friendship Shelter opened its doors in 1988 with an all-volunteer staff, and Colin as our first executive director.
In time, Colin would lead an effort to purchase two apartment buildings in San Clemente in 1995, and appropriately, our Board of Directors voted to named the site “Henderson House” by acclamation of the Board of Directors. Henderson House served as transitional housing before becoming – again guided by Colin’s vision – the site of Friendship Shelter’s first permanent supportive housing program. Today, it is home to 14 formerly homeless youth, aged 18-25 and part of a housing program that will approach 200 units by the end of this year.
As board president, he led us to accept the City’s request to operate the ASL emergency shelter when it was established in 2009. And, he led our board through a process of discernment and dialogue that affirmed our ongoing commitment to Housing First and Harm Reduction, ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our community are welcome in our shelters and housing.
When Colin made the decision to move back to the UK in 2017, we understood. He wanted to be near his children and grandchildren. It was time. I’ll always be grateful that we took the opportunity to celebrate him then. More than 200 people attended a party in his honor. He received honorary proclamations from the Laguna Beach City Council and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Photos from Colin's Farewell Party
If you were lucky enough to know Colin, we invite you to use the comment section below to share your stories, memories or thoughts. We will share this with Colin’s family and loved ones so that they can see him through the lens of our memories.
We are all grateful to have worked so closely with him and we know that the very best way to honor Colin is to continue his efforts. We will do so with renewed resolve. Colin’s children have kindly expressed their wish that any donations made in his memory be directed to Friendship Shelter. If you’d like to donate in Colin’s honor, you can click the button below.
Colin would want me to close by reminding you that no one person created or sustains Friendship Shelter. It takes, as they say, a village. Thank you for being a part of our village.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest in peace.
Dawn Price, Executive Director