Emergency responders Push for Change when it comes to youth homelessness in Renfrew County
Tina Peplinskie/Daily Observer The Laurentian Valley Fire Department Association recently donated $350 to Safe Shelters Renfrew County. Taking part in the donation (from left) firefighters Luke Godin, Lloyd Gervais, Andy Rathwell, Greg Rigo, Chris Myra, Capt. Mark Caden, firefighter Jason Normandeau, Safe Shelters transitional supervisor Michael Dalton, Capt. Marv Pigeon, firefighters Wade Leal and Jeremy Linton.
Local emergency responders are banding together to help Push for Change when it comes to youth homelessness in Renfrew County.
The Ontario Provincial Police has partnered with Joe Roberts, a former homeless heroine addict, who transformed his difficult life to become a successful businessman. He has gone on to start Push for Change, an organization not only to raise funds and awareness of about youth homelessness across the country, but to serve as a call to action, to get involved now, and for the long term, with the ultimate goal of ending youth homelessness.
In order to get his message across, Roberts is pushing a shopping cart across Canada as a national awareness and youth empowerment project to help end youth homelessness. The shopping cart is a symbol of Roberts’s transformation from youth homelessness and represents the very outcome those involved in the project are trying to avoid for future generations. The journey began May 1, 2016 in St. John’s, N.L. and will continue for 517 days ending in Vancouver, B.C. on Sept. 30, 2017. He will walk and push a shopping cart more than 9,000 kilometres through 10 provinces and will visit all three territories. He will also speak at more than 400 community and school events.
Const. Peter Spital of the Upper Ottawa Valley detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police was tasked to plan something for the local detachment, but he went over and above, reaching out to all emergency service workers in Renfrew County and they have answered the call in spades, stepping up to the plate to complete the Barefoot Challenge and raise funds for Safe Shelters Renfrew County.
“This is all because of Pete Spital. He was asked to lead something that was unique for our department and he reached out to our partners,” said Inspector Mark Wolfe, Upper Ottawa Valley OPP detachment commander. “He has done and amazing job and the success is a result of his hard work.”
On Monday, representatives from the Upper Ottawa Valley OPP, Deep River Police Service, Pembroke, Petawawa and Laurentian Valley Fire Departments and County of Renfrew Paramedic Service gathered at the Upper Ottawa Valley – Pembroke detachment to show their commitment to the cause. Close to 30 people have completed the Barefoot Challenge, billed on the Push for Change website as an empathic experience of going without your boots for one hour to raise awareness and funds towards youth homelessness prevention. Another option is Texting BOOTS to 41010 to donate $10 towards preventing youth homelessness.
Spital said first responders are often called to engage with local youth dealing with mental health issues or drug addiction leading to homelessness or couch surfing, so it was a natural fit to get on board with the Push for Change campaign and the Barefoot Challenge.
“This is a sympathetic approach and in a small way shows what it is like to be homeless,” the officer said, noting Roberts once sold his boots to purchase heroine.
When Spital initially put out the call for emergency responders to take the Barefoot Challenge, he didn’t know what kind of response he would received, but he was thrilled with the number of people who have taken part and he is hoping to extend the challenge to mayors in communities throughout the Upper Ottawa Valley and have them continue to push it forward through the municipal sector.
Through this campaign, the emergency responders will be supporting Safe Shelters which is working to help young people in Renfrew County come in from the cold. Mark Dalton, transitional supervisor for Safe Shelters, noted the organization typically receives 10 calls every three months about kids in need. It aims to to find places for youth to stay, with people who have been approved. It provides three Renfrew County youth, aged 16 to 21, per month a safe bed where their needs can be met.
“It is all about making connections,” Dalton said. “When young people have a conflict with adults in their lives they can get disconnected, which leads to problems.”
To increase the awareness for the issue of youth homelessness in Renfrew County, emergency responders will be set up today at the Pembroke Mall and West End Mall from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. collecting donations of items for homeless youth including toiletries from toothpaste and toothbrushes to towels and other items. Safe Shelters is a combined effort of Family and Children’s Services of Renfrew County, Renfrew County United Way, Phoenix Centre for Families and Children and Columbus House Pembroke. To learn more about Safe Shelters and how to donate, or to get help for a youth in need, call Family and Children’s Services at 613-735-6866. For more information about Push for Change, visit www.thepushforchange.com.