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Awareness walk shines light on local homelessness

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Thank the weather or thank the commitment made by those who care; either way it made for a successful event focused on raising awareness and money to combat homelessness in Fort Frances.

“That was an awesome turn out,” said Fort Frances' Homeless Committee co-chair Jamie Petrin of the Coldest Day of the Year awareness walk that was held on Thursday afternoon.

“I think we had over 50 people here in the Warming Center. A few extras joined the walk that left before the film. So, I'm feeling really happy. I think that that's just a huge show of support for the issue of homelessness right now in Fort Frances and doing something about it.”

The event was put on by the Homeless Committee and the Northwest Community Legal Clinic, which also served as the starting point for the walk. Supporters and participants then made the trek down Scott St to Armit Ave. before heading up to Front St. and finally down Victoria Ave. to arrive at the Out of the Cold Warming Centre, where a hot chili lunch was served. The centre also served as a drop off point for any pledges collected.

Following the meal, those who remained at the Centre took in a screening of “Us & Them,” a documentary made by Canadian filmmaker Krista Loughton on the realities of homelessness. Over the course of a decade, Loughton followed the lives of four people who experienced chronic homelessness and the friendships she struck up with each of them.

Petrin said the screening of the film made for a special moment in the day.

“[The documentary] was wonderful and it actually kind of struck me during the film just how neat it was to be sitting and sharing in that experience with all these people,” she explained.

“That was a really neat experience. But I mean, of course, I think that [the film is] for anybody, not just people who don't work in Social Services, but for people who do work in Social Services, everybody. It really brings the issue of homelessness back to being a very human issue.”

The documentary spends a good deal of time with each of the four main participants, allowing for audiences to learn more about them beyond the stereotypes of “being homeless,” and Petrin. The fact that many in the audience had been touched by homelessness in one way or another, added emotional heft of the film.

“People were grabbing at kleenexes and sort of sniffling,” she said of the screening.

“What was so needed about the film is that, yes, there was moments that were very, very sad and very touching and very painful almost, for a number of people, actually. I'm sure they found it painful. But there were little moments of humour that, again, I think just really humanized the whole issue. People who are homeless are not just the stereotype of sadness. They're full humans. They have the full range of emotions and personalities and I think that's really important for people to see.”

Loughton also joined in with the crowd at the Warming Centre following the screening of the documentary via Skype, and thanked participants for taking part in combatting homelessness.

“I just think it's really, really great that you're doing the walk and raising some money for homelessness in your community,” she said to the audience.

“I hope everyone felt like their contributions to raising funds for the homeless and doing something to help homelessness is well worth your time, and I hope the film helps reinforce that.”

Loughton also stressed the importance of communicating with different levels of government to help influence more policy around helping those who are homeless get the help they need.

“It really does make a difference because politicians will create policy based on what they think the majority of people want,” she said.

“So if they're flooded with letters, they listen to that. I really highly encourage everyone out there to use your voice because it does matter. We need to start changing the way people think. I think there's been so much... prejudice against homelessness, against homeless people and we need to really change the tide around that and how we think about it. It's a healthcare issue and not a criminal issue. We need to care and be able to help people heal so that they can get off the street and get back into the more stable way of living. We can all do our part for that.”

Even with a successful walk out of the way, Petrin noted that their work is far from done.

“We're always looking to lobby for more housing with supports,” she said.

“We're always sort of lobbying or looking for ways to advocate for what we view as being a really good solution to homelessness in Fort Frances, which is transitional or Supportive Housing - that's housing that has supports on site to hopefully keep people housed.”

To that end, Petrin said, the Warming Centre itself isn't an end goal to their work. Instead, it's an immediate necessity for people experiencing homelessness, while the committee, community partners and supporters work together to tackle the issue head on.

“The Out of the Cold [Warming Centre] is something that has always been temporary to us,” Petrin explained.

“We're looking for the housing, the solution, but in the meantime with nothing else, that's why Out of the Cold started, to provide something where there was nothing in hopes of getting something more, eventually.”

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