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Homelessness challenge draws community attention (9 photos)

'A lot of people are coming to donate; some just are coming to educate themselves,' says Elliot Lake Mayor Dan Marchisella, who has been doing the challenge for three days

This awareness campaign and fundraiser for homelessness has brought many community members  down to visit the former Algo Mall site.  

Elliot Lake Mayor Dan Marchisella says that “a lot of people are coming to donate; some just are coming to educate themselves.”

Some people just want to see the homeless camp firsthand, and some have also come to tell their stories. 

Some citizens have also privately come to join them and spend the night at the camp, each bringing their own personal reasons for supporting Marchisellsa’s homelessness challenge. 

Donations of food have also been dropped off by many members of the community.

Phil Ucci, a teacher at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School, stopped by to drop off some snacks for the participants. One of his students, Cyrus Pettefer, suggested having a conversation in class about homelessness, and he wanted to personally support the cause. 

The mayor says that quite a few people have stopped by to tell him about their use of our local shelters and what it meant to them. 

He has heard from men who say that Larry’s Place helped them start businesses and become independent. 

The staff and the resources at these facilities helped change their career and their paths. 

Last night, the participants in the homelessness challenge sat around the fire and listened to each other. 

One gentleman told the story of how he heard about Larry’s Place when it first opened. He had never heard of a transitional men’s house. He told the mayor how his experience at the shelter transitioned his life and changed everything for him. 

A young woman came to talk about addiction. Twelve years of suffering through hell started with prescription painkillers and still not fully recovered. 

Another homelessness victim talked about being kicked out of the house as a teenager and having to stay in unsafe places. They were forced to use drugs to stay awake all night in order to protect themselves. 

“These are the really important stories,” says Marchisella. 

The focus of this awareness campaign is to make people understand that homelessness isn’t always a choice. It’s not always about drug or alcohol abuse. It’s usually caused because something traumatic has happened to that individual in their life. 

The overwhelming message from speaker after speaker at the fire was that our country needs to end the stigma and judgment associated with this social crisis. 

“Canada seems to be following along with the capitalist ideas of the U.S. rather than the social ideas of Europe," Marchisella told ElliotLakeToday.

The puzzling question, he said, is how some of these European countries can happily support their people in some of the highest-taxed countries in the world.

Yet we cannot even get a handle on homelessness in Canada.

Another growing concern in our country is the housing crisis, he added.

Rent prices have increased drastically, as has the general cost of living. Yet the average monthly income has roughly stayed the same.  Families are finding themselves without homes. 

Marchisella says this is a “vicious cycle created by the social decay in this country... although many people in our senior government are good-hearted people, I don’t think their eyes are completely open.”

Marchisella and the other people participating in this awareness and fundraising initiative plan to be at the encampment until Saturday.