Elevate NWO helping people get in from the cold

By Kevin Jeffrey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

THUNDER BAY — Elevate NWO continues working to get over 100 people a day in their doors and out of the Northwestern Ontario winter elements.

Executive director Holly Gauvin said Monday that her staff have had a hand in helping 30 people get out of encampments and into a safe location.

“Last week there were only two people known to us that continue to remain outdoors – otherwise everyone is indoors,” Gauvin said.

“We feel really pleased that we were able to facilitate that, but also really concerned that 30 people disappeared off the streets of Thunder Bay and to date only one group, the DEK Foundation, even noticed that they weren’t there anymore. So that’s really concerning.”

Monday also marked the last day that Elevate NWO staff will take people back to their camps to have a final look through their belongings and ensure that they have everything that they want to take with them. Following that, the camps will come down.

Gauvin was asked who the responsibility falls on to take those measures.

“It’s sort of a shared responsibility. It isn’t actually a responsibility, but we do take a lead in it.

“At this time of year, it becomes a lot more difficult because a lot of things would be frozen into the ground, and hard to remove or maybe even buried under snow. Our workers will go through and do a cursory clean up. Then in the spring, a more intensive cleanup will take place.”

The shelter on Cumberland Street North helps individuals like Donald, who has been without a home for six years.

“It’s awesome that there is a place where homeless people can come and warm up and have something to eat. They give you socks, boots, everything,” Donald said.

“The staff are here to help you try to better yourself. If you have a drinking problem or are addicted to drugs, this is a place where you can come and better yourself.”

Gauvin mentioned that her organization is working with all of their community partners to connect up the homeless with services and ensure that there’s a plan to help move them forward.

She did argue that the shelter system in place doesn’t adequately meet the needs of people.

“That’s no disrespect to our shelters, which are doing the very, very best that they can, but they don’t necessarily meet the unique needs of people,” Gauvin stressed.

“I have made this case before – we have no shelter for couples. Couples are immediately separated at a point in time where they’re in crisis. They’re separated and forced to sleep in two separate dorms. That’s not ideal.

“We also have people with pets, and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be separated from my dog for love or money.”

Gauvin hinted at a future pilot project announcement in the spring that “might be a really great alternative to what we’ve been seeing and the trend that we’ve been seeing with homeless encampments.”