The Story of Tommy
“It’s March 2021 and I’ve been sleeping on the streets since December,” said Tommy. “I’ve spent Christmas looking for a warm place to sleep,” he said. Here is his story.
Tommy is 24 years old. He is from Toronto but came to Sudbury to study at Laurentian University in 2019. He completed his first year at Laurentian in June 2019. He really enjoyed his time and was looking forward to coming back in September 2019 to start his second year.
In June 2019, Tommy went home to Toronto and found a good-paying summer job. His parents were so proud of him and his younger sister looked up to him for being hard-working and dedicated. Tommy felt like the world was his oyster and that he would become successful in his career choice.
Tommy came back to Sudbury in September 2019 to start his second year of a four-year program. He was very dedicated to his studies and did well academically. He also found a part-time job and balanced his life between work and studies.
In December 2019, Tommy went home for Christmas to be with his family. He holds the memory of Christmas 2019 close to his heart because in 2020 his life was turned upside down.
After returning to Sudbury in January 2020, Tommy was making plans to return home for reading week. He was getting ready to leave Sudbury to return home when his cell phone rang. It was a call that crushed his spirit.
Tommy was coldly informed by a Toronto Police Officer that his parents and sibling were killed in an accident on the 400. Tommy went home to prepare his family’s funeral.
Tommy couldn’t afford to take any time away from studies as his midterms were just around the bend after reading week. Tommy quickly organized a Celebration of Life for his family and left Toronto to come back to Sudbury. The executor of his parents’ will was his uncle and Tommy trusted his parent’s judgment. He felt that he would be able to return to his studies and continue building his life and career.
Needless to say, that didn’t work out for Tommy.
Tommy’s uncle quickly sold his brother’s home and closed all the bank accounts. His uncle paid all the estate bills and sent Tommy a note saying that everything was in order and he didn’t have anything to worry about. He would be taken care of with a large sum of money from the sale of the home and the savings from the bank accounts. Tommy felt relieved and did well on his midterms.
In April 2020, Tommy called his uncle to find out where he could stay during the summer break. He was looking for a summer job in Toronto and was wondering where he should concentrate his efforts. There was no answer from his uncle. He called and emailed his uncle repeatedly. There was never a reply. Until the day where his phone calls were answered with “I’m sorry that number is no longer in service, please try your call again”.
Tommy’s uncle disappeared with all the money. Tommy was left alone in Sudbury with only a part-time job and a huge debt to pay.
Tommy managed to pay off his second-year costs but wasn’t able to make enough to pay for his third-year tuition, books, and his student housing. Tommy decided to continue with his third year by paying tuition and books and applying to OSAP for the rest. Tommy was denied OSAP due to the large inheritance (that he never received) and was on his own.
Tommy continued his studies but found shelter with friends until one day the place he was staying at burned to the ground. He was now on the streets with nowhere to go.
Tommy had to leave school before his first semester midterms because he couldn’t concentrate at school. His lack of concentration was because he couldn’t sleep at night. As the temperatures were falling, Tommy had to keep moving to stay warm. He would walk from Laurentian University to the downtown area. He would walk from downtown to New Sudbury and back to Laurentian. He did this for a few weeks before giving up on his studies.
Tommy was defeated.
Tommy is not an addict and has not fallen into a bad crowd. He wants to return to his studies but COVID protocols have made it impossible (you can’t participate in zoom classes without a laptop or wifi). Tommy can’t bring all his books with him while walking all over Sudbury to stay warm. Even with a pushcart, the weight of the books would be too much for him.
Tommy spent December 2020 looking for warmth and missing the love of his family. He tried to stay at the warming centers and shelters as much as he could. He would sleep outside many times with blankets wrapped around him. He would sleep 1 or 2 hours a night before waking up with chills. He would then start walking, aimlessly, just to stay warm.
Tommy’s life is now about finding food and a warm shelter for the night. He begs at street corners or in intersections. He goes through restaurant dumpsters for food as the soup kitchen hours have been cut because of COVID. He can’t always get into the Samaritan Center because of social distancing and the restriction on how many people can be in one place at once. He is lost. He is scared. He has no one.
What is the community doing to help Tommy?
The City of Greater Sudbury has many services for Tommy. However, Tommy wasn’t aware of what is out there for him. Not being from Sudbury, he isn’t well connected to the community and doesn’t have the knowledge of the existing services.
Being homeless has a devastating effect on human beings. Not being able to shower regularly, smelling like urine, being shunned by everyone is enough to make a human question their own dignity and self-worth. Tommy doesn’t feel like he can talk to his professors or his school friends because of his current situation. Tommy is hiding from everyone because he feels like he is now worthless, abandoned, and defeated.
One day, Tommy met a well-known man in town that works for free to help direct people like Tommy to success. Currently, Tommy is still homeless but does have a warm place to stay. He is making an application to OSAP under appeals and is also looking at subsidized housing (even though there is a 59 week waiting period). He has found some hope through the efforts of a volunteer and the community resources that were always at his disposal.
One person made a difference in Tommy’s life. One stranger respected his human dignity and listened attentively to his story. One person stood up, extended his hand, and helped Tommy to his feet. One person pointed Tommy to the services out there. One person that took the time. Does this person sound familiar? Have you met this person? Maybe you know a few of his friends? Here are a few things they have said throughout the years:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
“He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18).
Homelessness in Sudbury – Demographics
In 2001 a study by Carol Kauppi, Ph.D. with Jean-Marc Belanger, Ph.D. from Laurentian University identified 341 homeless individuals in January compared to 407 individuals in July 2001 (Kauppi, 2001). In 2018, the Homeless Hub identified 581 individuals that were absolutely homeless. However, the Homeless Hub research also identified other variables. Table 1 shows the results of the 2018 Homeless Hub research.
Table 1 : Sudbury Homeless Demographics (2018)
Absolutely homeless: 581
Hidden homeless: 734
At risk of homelessness: 863
No. of chronically homeless: 375
No. of episodically homeless: 409
No. staying in emergency or domestic violence shelter: 315
No. staying in transitional shelter: 107
No. staying in public space: 39
No. staying in vehicle: 29
No. staying in abandoned/vacant building: 29
Total living with forms of homelessness in Sudbury (2018) 3,481
According to the 2016 census data, the total Sudbury population was identified as 161,647 (Statistic Canada, 2016). In the same year, Statistic Canada identified that there were 3 homeless shelters in the City of Greater Sudbury and a total of 72 Emergency Shelter beds (Statistic Canada, 2017), Currently, Greater Sudbury Housing Corporation has 1,848 units and there is a 59 week wait time to get a subsidized unit (Sudbury Housing, 2020). Please remember that in 2016 there were 32,330 individuals living under the poverty line as calculated by this research.
In a CBC interview on July 3, 2020, Professor Carol Kauppi identifies an estimated homeless population of around 3,000. This is an alarming increase and is attributed to the hidden homeless variables identified in the Homeless Hub research. These hidden homeless are becoming more visible on the streets in Sudbury because certain factors are forcing them to be more visible. (CBC, 2020)
Many researchers have tried to measure the impact of poverty. Most of these researchers categorize the impact of poverty into three categories. The first category is food insecurity. This is defined as people being afraid of not having enough food or not having access to healthy foods. The second impact of poverty is health. Research shows that the cost of healthcare is directly related to poverty and homelessness. (Kauppi, 2000). The third and last category is housing. Homelessness is obviously the visible expression of poverty. Affordable housing is needed to help reduce this visibility and provide society with a means to gain control over the poverty index.
In 2014, the Province of Ontario created the Poverty Reduction Strategy and solicited municipalities to submit proposals for funding in order to try and eliminate poverty in Ontario. Many municipalities submitted funding requests and Sudbury was one of them. In late 2016 the Public Health/Sante Publique for Sudbury and Districts was awarded $217,000 to create the Circles Initiative which operated between 2017 and 2020.
The Circles Initiative established three programs that worked together to assess and reduce poverty in the City of Greater Sudbury by building relationships with community partners to assist people in coming above the poverty line. The three programs are Bridges out of Poverty, Circles Leader Training, and finally Circles. In order to make these programs work, 16 agencies in the City of Greater Sudbury got together to form a Steering Committee called Partners to End Poverty. These agencies are:
- Barrydowne College, Rainbow District School Board
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury
- City of Greater Sudbury
- Jubilee Heritage Family Resources
- Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
- Monarch Recovery Services
- N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre
- Our Children, Our Future
- Public Health Sudbury & Districts
- Social Planning Council of Sudbury
- Spark Employment Services (formerly Sudbury Vocational Resource Centre)
- St. Albert Adult Learning Centre, Sudbury Catholic District School Board
- Sudbury Workers Education & Advocacy Centre
- United Way Centraide North East Ontario
- YMCA Employment Services
The Circles program was developed to help people living in poverty. The programs help them while they work on a personal action plan to get off of the Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program through education and employment by linking individuals to community resources.
Also, the City of Greater Sudbury in 2018 established the Housing First Program. This program focuses on providing housing to individuals on a more permanent basis while helping them with their recovery (including recovery from mental health and addictions). This program provides additional community support and services as needed. According to the City of Greater Sudbury’s Master Plan, this program has allocated funds from April 1 2016 to March 31, 2020. Since 2016, over 3 million has been allocated and made available to individuals.
As we can see, the City of Greater Sudbury has done a lot to help eliminate homelessness and reduce poverty. Public Health has also contributed to establishing more accessible resources to individuals experiencing poverty or homelessness. The problem is that with close to 3,000 people being homeless in Sudbury in 2020, the services and resources are being stretched out and are thinning very quickly. The funds allocated just aren’t enough to completely eliminate the problem.
The community needs to get involved and try to do what it can to assist with reducing poverty levels or homelessness. In November 2020, the community did just that.
In November a Facebook group was created by Darren Ransom called Silent No More!!!! Sudbury’s Overdose Epidemic. When Darren started this group, it started with only a few people from his church. It grew rapidly from 25 members to 1,500 members within a week. It is now close to 8,500 members.
This group, in such a short time, has done a lot for the community. It created awareness of those that have lost their lives to opioid overdose by erecting white crosses on the Sudbury Theater Center lawn at the corner of Paris and Brady. These crosses have the names of all those who died from overdoses. Family and Friends can go visit these crosses and remember their loved ones. This group is also fighting for a safe injection site and as a result, Public Health opened a Request for Proposal from individuals or companies willing to undertake that challenge. This group has also built (from donated materials) many warm huts and has dropped these huts off at various locations so that the homeless population has a shelter to sleep in during the winter months. Currently, this group is fighting to keep a new “make do” warming center open. The group is asking the City of Greater Sudbury to fund a make do warming center at 19 Regent Street. This location is housing 24 individuals. If this location is closed, 24 people will be forced into the cold.
Please take a moment to view the Facebook posts and become aware of the issues in the Sudbury Area. You can also volunteer time with the team or you can offer daily prayer to those involved in helping and to those suffering from homelessness.
The goal of the group is to be able to share stories, to alert the city, and to make it a reality that addiction, homelessness, and extreme poverty exist in our community. This group is bringing attention to issues that the politicians and other “right” people need to see.
FACEBOOK LINK: Silent No More
The City of Greater Sudbury is a community that cares. It is a community that listens. It is a community that will prosper. Together we fight to eliminate poverty and homelessness. This fight will never end but at least we are trying.
What can you do to help build a Culture of Life?
We are all called to build the City of God. This City is built one brick at a time and needs workers! The more workers the better!
If you know someone that is experiencing homelessness or is living in poverty, please review some of these websites listed under the Homelessness: Programs and Services section below. You can always have the person call 311 for more information on services available to those living in poverty or that are homeless. You can also:
- Request Prayers for someone suffering from homelessness or living in poverty https://www.holyredeemerchurch.ca/prayerpals-prayer-request/
- Become a Prayer Pal and pray with our team https://www.holyredeemerchurch.ca/become-a-prayerpal/
- Check out the websites below or get involved with an organization that helps the homeless live better lives. Most of these organizations operate with volunteers. If you want to get involved, please check out the websites and make contact with the organization of your choice!
Homelessness Programs and Services
Support for people experiencing homelessness
The Off the Street Emergency Shelter is available for adults of any gender, aged 18 and older. Located at 200 Larch St., it is open seven days a week, from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. It provides a safe, warm place to sleep, with light refreshments, access to washrooms and showers, and housing-focused referral services to individuals who are homeless. For more information, visit https://sm.cmha.ca/programs-services/off-the-street-emergency-shelter/.
Cedar Place is an emergency shelter for women aged 20 and older or families with children. Located at 261 Cedar St., it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It provides a safe, warm place to sleep, three nutritious meals, access to washrooms and showers, and housing-focused referral services. For more information, visit https://www.northeasthealthline.ca/displayservice.aspx?id=171762.
As well, the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth provides four emergency shelter beds for youth aged 16 to 24 years connected to its warming center at 95 Pine St. For more information, visit: http://www.sacy.ca/
There are two daytime warming centers and two overnight warming centers operating in Greater Sudbury.
The Homelessness Network Day Centre is open on the main floor at 199 Larch St. The drop-in center is operated by Centre de Sante Communautaire du Grand Sudbury and offers a safe, warm place for people to access washrooms, breakfast, water, coffee, and free wifi, all with physical distancing. Lunch and dinner are delivered to the day center from the Elgin Street Mission and Blue Door Soup Kitchen. The center also provides client navigators who will help people connect to health, housing, and social service supports. The program operates seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and will continue until May 31, 2021.
A Daytime Warming Centre, located at the YMCA at 140 Durham St. in downtown Sudbury opened on January 29, 2021. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. As well, an Overnight Warming Centre opened at the YMCA on November 16, 2020. It operates seven days a week, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. until the end of April 2021. The center offers a safe, comfortable, warm place for people to visit, with access to washrooms and light refreshments. For more information, call the YMCA at 705-674-8315.
An overnight warming center for youth opened at the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth at 95 Pine St. This center is open every night from 10:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. until the end of April 2021 and provides a safe, warm place for youth aged 16 – 24 years. For more information, visit http://www.sacy.ca/.
Street Outreach is a program administered by the Homelessness Network and intended to engage and support people who may be living outdoors, in tents, or other places not meant for human habitation. Outreach staff walk and drive to locations where people are known to be and offer help to individuals by providing a wide range of services aimed at intervention, reintegration, and social and community re-adaptation. Services provided include referral to community resources, suicide intervention, immediate first aid, health support, and transportation to essential services. They also provide blankets, clothing, and supplies to those in need. During an Extreme Cold Weather Alert, the outreach team operates the outreach van overnight to transport people to safe places, such as shelters and warming centers.
Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative
The Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) program supports low-income individuals and families who are homeless, or who are at risk of homelessness, by providing funds to pay a last month’s rent deposit, rental arrears, or utility depositor arrears. The program guidelines have been expanded to support individuals and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the CHPI program, visit https://www.greatersudbury.ca/live/employment-support-and-financial-assistance/emergency-housing-support-shelters-and-free-meals/.
Check out the StreetWise Service Guide for more information: Street Wise Services Guide
Learn more about the City’s Housing First Model
Housing First is a model of service delivery that states there are no pre-requisites for housing. Under the Housing First model, individuals do not need to stay sober or be going to treatment in order to get housing. The primary goal is to assist someone to secure housing that is safe, affordable and appropriate, as quickly as possible. Once housed, individuals are provided with additional supports and services as needed to help them maintain housing and avoid returning to homelessness.
The guiding principles of Housing First are:
- Immediate access to permanent housing with no housing readiness requirements
- Consumer choice and self-determination
- Recovery orientation
- Individualized and client-driven supports
- Social and community integration
To learn more about Housing First, visit: https://www.homelesshub.ca/solutions/housing-accommodation-and-supports/housing-first
The Homelessness Network provides a Housing First program in Greater Sudbury. For more information, about the Housing First program in Greater Sudbury, visit https://homelessnessnetwork.ca/.
Extreme Cold Weather Alert
An Extreme Cold Weather Alert is issued when the temperature is expected to be below -15 degrees Celsius, below -20 degrees with a wind chill, or when Environment Canada issues a storm watch or weather warning. Between November 1 and March 31 every year, the Homelessness Network monitors Environment Canada and calls the Alert. When an Alert is issued, additional services are put in place over the next 24 hours to ensure people living outdoors can stay warm.
When an Alert is issued, the Homelessness Network Outreach Team operates an outreach van overnight. They transport people to safe places such as a shelter or warming center. They also provide people who choose to stay outside with extra clothing, blankets, and coffee. The Extreme Cold Weather Alert program is funded by the City of Greater Sudbury and administered by the Homelessness Network.
More ways to support people experiencing homelessness
Coordinated Access System
Work is underway with community partners to put in place a Coordinated Access System. This means that people who are experiencing homelessness will be matched to the level of housing and/or supports that best meets their needs. Community partners will work together, instead of the person having to go from place to place. A Coordinated Access System will allow the City to collect data about homelessness that will help determine where we need to focus more resources. The City expects to implement a Coordinated Access System in early 2021.
To read more about Coordinated Access, visit https://bit.ly/2LSyLch.
Part of a Coordinated Access System is holding a “By-Name List.” This is a real-time list of people experiencing homelessness in our community. It includes every individual who is homeless and consents to having their name added to the list. With a By-Name List, we will know, in real-time, how many people are homeless, how many people were housed, and how we are doing at reducing the number of people who are homeless in Greater Sudbury.
To learn more about By-Name Lists, visit https://bfzcanada.ca/by-name-lists/.
Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS)
The Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) is a web-based system that will help the City better understand homelessness in the community and allow service providers to share data and work collaboratively to support people experiencing homelessness.
HIFIS supports communities by allowing multiple service providers to access real-time homelessness data and refer clients to the services at the right time. HIFIS allows the service providers to collaborate through a community-wide system that can be accessed from web-enabled devices, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets.
HIFIS benefits clients, service providers, and the homelessness sector by:
- enabling clients’ assessment, prioritization and referral to services at the right time without requiring clients to repeat their stories multiple times
- empowering service providers with reporting tools to increase understanding of local homelessness trends and needs, and
- contributing to a comprehensive portrait of homelessness in Canada, informing evidenced-based policy and decision-making
Work is underway to implement HIFIS 4 in Greater Sudbury in early 2021. To learn more about the system, visit https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/homelessness/hifis.html