When I look downtown, I see places and faces I’ve grown to love.
I know others may have more jaded opinions of the city’s core — yes, me and my collection of parking tickets can relate to your woes — but as a whole, I think there are some good things happening.
That being said, I appreciate it’s not all roses. At any given time, there are between 400 and 600 homeless people living in the city, many assembling in the cluster of streets framed by Elgin and Elm.
Kevin Serviss said on the average winter night, between 12 to 18 of those people seek refuge from the elements at the Samaritan Centre.
The executive director of the downtown citizen service hub said it’s a safe place for people who have no where else to go. They can eat, sleep, find warm clothes, do laundry, shower, access medical care and find companionship. Still, some find comfort in the streets.
On a fresh winter day, Serviss took time to explore the downtown with Northern Life. As we ventured through the ins and outs of the snowy streets, Serviss pointed out some of the common places Sudbury’s homeless population find themselves, and told us why.
While the top half of the Paris Street bridge is alive with brightly coloured flags, the bottom half is a different story. The banked supports holding up the bridge, coupled with the roof effect of the structure, provide an escape from the elements.
“Anywhere where it’s out of the weather ... that’s where (homeless people) would be,” Serviss said.
In his own experiences, he has seen his fair share of people curled up inside cardboard boxes under the protection of the “ceiling.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people around this area,” he said.
However, as temperatures plummet during the winter, its more difficult for people to stay warm even with the aid of the rooftop.
“Any place where they can get inside is obviously very popular for them,” Serviss said.
Underground parking lots
Serviss said areas protected by a roof and four walls make “ideal spots” for homeless people seeking shelter. Standing below Tom Davies Square, Serviss said, “it’s probably five to 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the outside air.”
“There is no wind down here. Even though its unheated, there’s a natural warmth.”
Foyers and stairways
A step up still are areas protected with roofs, walls and doors. The entrance way to a bank, apartment building or building entrance provides just that.
“Bank foyers have probably been one of the most popular places homeless people hang out,” Serviss said.
Because they’ve become so popular, banks are looking for ways to prevent homeless people from camping out. Serviss said many downtown locations close early, while branches in outlying areas remain open. Some banks even emit high-pitched alarms that turn off when the door is opened or closed.
We’re finding more and more people are living on the streets or in temporary shelters for a whole variety of reasons.
executive director of the Samaritan Centre
If a person is able to make it into a foyer, the next problem they face is how long they can stay.
“The landlord has the right to ask people to leave the premises,” Serviss said.
At that point, the person is forced to find an alternative.
“More and more, it seems facilities like banks don’t want homeless people hanging out,” he said. “It’s not the kind of situation that’s desirable for business.”
Together with other local organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Genevra House, the Samaritan Centre is doing what it can to ensure everyone has a place to go at night.
To help draw awareness to the issue of homelessness in Sudbury, the Samaritan Centre is hosting The Coldest Night of the Year.
The event is part of a national campaign to raise funds and awareness around homelessness, designed to give the community the opportunity to experience “a hint of the challenges faced by the homeless during a cold Sudbury night in the dead of winter.”
Participants have the chance to walk two, five or 10 kilometres around downtown Feb. 23. They are invited to register as a team or as an individual, collecting pledges and making donations. All proceeds go to support the work of the Samaritan Centre.
The walk gets underway at 5 p.m. from the Rainbow Centre. To register, visit coldestnightoftheyear.org.