A new unsanctioned warming centre in Sudbury is hoping to find a way to work with the city to help tackle the ongoing homeless crisis.
CTV News has previously reported on 'Hope for Sudbury's' efforts to collect and distribute clothing to some of the most vulnerable amongst the city. Now, the group has started what it's calling a community centre for the homeless.
"We walk them in, we get them comfortable," said Richard Pacey, facilitator of the project. "We set them up with their own spot, their own safe space then we get all their sizes of clothing that they need and we get them a whole new wardrobe so they are able to feel warm again."
The group has set up shop at the former Mine Mill Hall building on Regent Street. Those who choose to accept help from the group are registered and, after receiving new clothes, are taken to the upper hall, which has been transitioned into sleeping and living quarters. Each guest is assigned their own space.
"It's an area that we set up so that no other person can go into their area unless they're invited and in that area they can have a bed, they can sleep, they can have their belongings in it," said Pacey.
COVID protocols in place
Upon entry, strict COVID-19 protocols are in place. All bags are thoroughly inspected. The group has acquired a thermometer in order to take temperatures and a COVID-19 screening procedure is followed. All of this is made possible with the help of volunteers.
"I think people need help and people should not be left out on the street and people are people," said Tina Lakatos, who called herself Pacey's co-captain. "We're all the same. We all need comfort. We all need shelter, we all need warmth, we all need food."
On Friday, Sudbury bylaw and police officers joined with fire services and city officials for a meeting and inspection. Pacey left the meeting feeling optimistic about forming a partnership with the city to tackle the crisis.
"The city is working with us," he said. "They are making sure the building is safe. They are making sure that it's a safe space, that's their main concern. They've done a fire inspection, a building inspection and a health and safety inspection and we're still here!"
So far, 24 people have been registered with the facility. One of those people is Jen, who chose not to provide her last name.
"I've been homeless and been struggling with addictions and just getting my life back," she said. "The struggles, it's cold, (I'm) homeless, walking around aimlessly trying to find somewhere warm to go. Sometimes I was sleeping underneath, trying to find where hot air blows to stay warm."
Not far from her personal sleeping space is a communal hangout spot. Couches have been set up in front of a large television, providing a safe space for relaxation and socialization.
"It means a lot that there's actually people that care. It's hard to find that here in Sudbury but it's awesome," said Jen. "I thank the Lord for this. We're trying to work on building up a routine again. I lost that from being homeless so trying to get back on track with my life."
According to Hope for Sudbury, health officials have said up to 50 people can be provided shelter. The team is working to provide a 24/7 operation, something that isn't offered at other shelters or warming centres, where people are kicked out at a certain point.
"It doesn't feel good because you are out there, freezing," Stanley Baudry, a registered beneficiary of the facility, said of being kicked out of shelters at closing time. "(Here) we are all one big happy family. We just have to work together and keep the place clean and try to keep the place going and let's have some good things in here -- good, positive stuff."
The 5,000 square feet of space was provided by Sudbury businessman and owner Paul Temelini, who said after seeing insufficient action, it was time for him to do what he could.
"We walk down the street downtown, or drive by, and if you have a dog there, the SPCA are picking it up and taking care of them," said Temelini. "We have human beings on the street and they aren't being looked after … not the way they should be. And I figured 'well that’s fine. Nobody else is going to do it. I'm going to do it!"
The team is also developing what it is calling a Homeless Health Plan, ensuring adequate care is provided to those who need it. Officials are working closely with Health Sciences North.
Witnessed struggle first-hand
"When one of our guests needs a doctor's appointment, we go in through virtual now," said Pacey. "So they can have a meeting with the doctor virtually and if the doctor (says) they just need a prescription, the pharmacy will have the prescription delivered here so they don't even have to leave."
Similar to Temelini, the idea for the shelter came to Pacey after seeing people struggle first-hand. While handing out clothing, he was troubled about having to leave the homeless behind on the street, knowing many were stuck there overnight once city shelters reached capacity.
"It's very sad. They've come to find help," he said. "The city has been providing shelters and warming stations, however once the capacity at the shelter is full, the warming stations, even the nighttime ones, they're not able to sleep. They just sit in a desk the size of a school desk with a Plexiglas and after a few days, a few weeks of not sleeping, it affects your mind."
From their perspective, both Jen and Stanley, the homeless people CTV News spoke with said that many people make harsh judgments when it comes to the homeless, failing to recognize everyone has their own story.
"(People think) we don't want to do anything with ourselves," said Jen. "Honestly, I gave up on myself and I'm trying to get myself, get my spirit back. I've worked. I've had a life. This wasn't what I wanted but it is what it is but I'm going to get back."
Those sentiments are echoed by Stanley, who said he feels a level of respect at the new shelter he doesn't typically receive.
"When they see homeless people on the street, they don't really care," he said. "It's just another person on the street. The rich people, they don't care about us. I don't know if I'm saying this right but we are human beings. We've got the same blood, just like everybody else."
While its future remains up in the air, Pacey is hopeful an agreement can be reached to keep the new shelter operational.
"Regardless of if it's -40 or not, they are still going to need a place," said Pacey. "Even in April and May, even May 24 there's still snow on the ground. It's still cold so we are going to remain open and remain helping until the city builds new housing to be able to house these people. So until then, we have a safe space for them to stay."
The team is looking for people who wish to take up a security role of some kind. Anyone wishing to provide support can click here.