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Reflections on a week spent ‘homeless’ (22 photos)

From being called an 'f—ing crackhead' to hearing stories of hope, new leases on life and differences made by caring shelter staff, the mayor of Elliot Lake has had an intense week

Mayor Dan Marchisella described his week participating in this homelessness challenge as overwhelming.

Not only from the physical aspect of the challenge but also from the emotional dialogue that was sparked from the experience.

He was also overwhelmed with the amount of support received from the community.

The Mayor of Elliot Lake started his week off by setting up his tarped cardboard box on the former Algo Mall site.

He hadn't even finished the setup when a passerby yelled up to him, “You f—ing crackhead.” 

An instant reminder of the stigma he was facing.

The community has worked together this past week to bring awareness and financial aid to this social issue.

The total amounts raised for the challenge by the mayor and shelter amount to approximately $16,000 dollars. 

The mayor raised $1,125 in cash donations, $1,875 from the Elliot Lake website and $1,730 from the GoFundMe page. There are still private financial pledges coming in but have yet to be added to the total. 

The shelter staff raised approximately $10,000 in pledges from the community and the City of Elliot Lake will continue to facilitate donations to Maplegate through it's website.

It has definitely sparked a conversation in our community, and also with senior government levels. 

Local non-profit organizations are beginning to form alliances and work together. 

The goal is “being able to cover any gaps” in any community services provided within our region, says Theresa Hiuser, the interim executive director of The Elliot Lake Women’s Group (Maplegate).

Both Toby Greig, Foodland Owner, and Len Kutchaw, Elliot Lake Food Bank President, have been in contact with Hiuser to coordinate a plan for the future. 

ElliotLakeToday asked both Hiuser and Marchisella what the most memorable moments of their time spent ‘homeless’ were.

Both agreed that it was a rewarding experience to have people trust them enough to share their stories.

However, Marchisella did say it became a “mental struggle” throughout the week because of the empathy he felt for the people who came to share their personal experiences with homelessness.

Both Hiuser and Marchisella know that more work is needed to continue to educate the community on this growing concern.

There was shelter staff on-site the entire week to answer questions and talk about the programs and services that are available within our community.

They were both amazed at the number of citizens who came down to ask questions and become informed.

They also both also agreed that one of the most negative experiences throughout the week was seeing inaccurate accounts on social media about what the campaign was all about.

This wasn’t a “see the mayor suffer campaign,” says Marchisella, “we all need to realize the plethora of issues that can lead to homelessness, and it can happen to any of us at any time.”

Marchisella and Hiuser will be continuing to put pressure on senior government officials on both the provincial and federal levels.

Carol Hughes, the MP for the Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing riding stopped by the site last Thursday to show her support and she also made a financial contribution.

Michael Mantha, the MPP was unable to attend due to Queen’s Park obligations. He says this “is something I definitely support.” However, his responsibilities at the legislature did not permit him to participate at this time.

Mantha has told ElliotLakeToday that his plan sometime “over the course of the summer is to help raise awareness and help raise funds for the men’s shelter.”

Both of the senior government officials for our riding, have agreed to continue to support this awareness campaign at their government levels.

Hiuser has also attended and made presentations to surrounding municipalities asking for financial support.

“This is not just an Elliot Lake problem and we are seeing clients from all along the Highway 17 corridor,” says Hiuser.

This awareness campaign has sparked interest further than just Elliot Lake. The efforts of the participants in the challenge have been noticed by both CTV and CBC news.

The conversation has been started.

“How can we be in a society where people can continue to walk by other humans that are suffering?” says Marchisella, “I don't understand it.”

The mayor is in awe at the number of people that have told him that Maplegate or Larry’s Place has changed their lives.

He was told this week that the shelters have given them “new hope, new direction and a new lease on life,” it was absolutely amazing, he says

Hiuser and her team are “compassionate about being the voice for the vulnerable people in our community”.

They are committed to helping people and are also committed to breaking the stigma and multiple barriers created by society.

Official statement from Elliot Lake Mayor Dan Marchisella:

After receiving a challenge from Theresa Hiuser and shelter staff to go homeless for a night, I took the challenge a bit further.

I decided to stay five days and five nights. Living and working from a cardboard box home. It was indeed challenging, especially in the blazing heat.

The staff from both Maplegate and Larry’s Place also took on the challenge - spending any free time and nights when they could along with some pretty hardcore members of our community and council.

North Shore Mayor, Tony Moor also dove into this challenge in his community in support of the shelters which service this entire area.

We saw donations roll in from local businesses, schools, Elliot Lake fire department, city staff, children, and big-hearted members of the community.

Importantly notable was the spirit of giving back by many people that have had their lives changed by the support of the shelters in our community. Most touching was a gentleman who still struggles with poverty coming to give what he could.

This wasn’t just about raising money, but also changing the stigma and educating.

Last Monday, as I began setting up the box which would become a home for the week, a young man walking across the lower parking lot shouted up at me, “f—ing crackhead”, and then hurried away. 

The reality is that anyone can end up in this situation at any time. The stories that were shared throughout the week were both inspiring and disturbing at the same time. 

Stories about everything from domestic abuse, and substance abuse derived from prescribed methadone, OxyContin, and opioids. Stories about job loss, mental health issues and the new social class ‘the working poor’.

My takeaway is that our senior government had a good plan that was being funded. It was helping people through shelters and programs. Now with the lack of funding, men's shelters are the first in line to disappear. 

Humans helping humans can be the answer. I want to thank the whole community for your support.

Mayor Dan Marchisella
City of Elliot Lake

Offical statement from Theresa Hiuser, Interim Executive Director of the Elliot Lake Women’s Group

I would like to extend a thank you from myself and the shelter staff to the City Of Elliot Lake, all businesses, organizations, and citizens. 

A thank you to the people who came and supported, asked questions and offered suggestions. Thank you for dropping off meals, supplies, snacks, coffee and financial donations. 

Thank you to Mayor Dan Marchisella for accepting this challenge and for extending it to all government officials. Without the support of our local municipal leaders and council we would not have got the word out. 

Thank you to the people who came to share their experience and stories of personal homelessness. 

We appreciate everyone’s efforts and support for our shelters and if we continue to raise awareness and voice our concerns then perhaps the Country will listen. 

The important point to be taken from all of this is that homelessness does not discriminate. The homeless are not nameless but they are definitely someone’s family so it is all our issue. 

We need support to assist our shelters and increase the capacity to aid programming funds to make real change in lives. As a community and as human beings we can continue to reduce the stigma by being kind! 

Theresa Hiuser
Interim Executive Director 
Elliot Lake Women’s Group