The Fort Frances Homelessness Committee is now a step closer to opening a “pop-up” homeless shelter here.
The “Longest Night of the Year” event, held overnight Friday along the 200 block of Scott Street, raised more than $16,000 for the committee, whose goal is to run a shelter out of the Apostolic Way church on Victoria Avenue three nights a week during the winter months.
“We can always use more donations but it was a really good turnout and a really good start,” enthused committee member Jill Pernsky, who helped co-organize the sleep-out event that ran from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m.
More than 80 people signed up to participate, with the funds raised to be used to hire staff to operate the shelter.
People who would like to donate money, or volunteer at the shelter once its functional, can contact Pernsky at 274-3871.
She is glad to have raised money for the shelter, as well as raise awareness of the realities that some 82 local individuals could face each night.
“It made people open their eyes and see that there are actually that many people out there,” Pernsky remarked.
“I’m sure people knew there were homeless on the street but I don’t think they knew the exact number.”
It’s been found that 82 people are experiencing homelessness in Fort Frances and another 29 in Atikokan, according to the recently-released Rainy River District Homeless Enumeration Highlights.
That report also indicated 41 percent of those who are homelessness in the district are “couch surfing,” 24 percent currently are housed but at imminent risk of being homeless, 17 percent stay at a shelter or temporary housing, eight percent sleep in a motel, six percent sleep outdoors, and four percent sleep in a hospital or jail.
The top reason for homelessness is addiction, followed by conflict with or abuse in the home, being unable to afford housing, getting evicted for non-financial reasons, job loss, illness treatment or hospital stay, and unsafe housing.
Some 80 percent of those who are homeless self-identified as First Nations or Métis, 20 percent as white, and one percent as black.
As well, 57 percent of people who are homeless also struggle with addiction, 43 percent have mental health issues, and 28 percent have concurrent mental health and addictions.
Pernsky said Friday night’s event really helped her and other participants develop a new understanding and respect for people who sleep outside 365 days of the year.
“I know that a lot of people, including myself, were wondering how somebody could actually do that more than one night in a row,” she remarked.
“When you experience the one night out on the street, it really gives you a much clearer picture of what exactly we’re trying to do.”
Pernsky is thankful to the community for being so generous while fundraising for the endeavour, and would like to extended her appreciation to all who participated and made it possible.