Outpouring of support for Toronto's homeless
By Sue Tiffin
Published Jan. 18, 2018
Kim Dennis speaks about the chain reaction of kindness – how one person’s actions can foster inspiration in others to go forward and do good things.
She can see the power of that idea in the form of a mountain of jumbo-sized garbage bags filled with winter coats, blankets, hats and mitts – a mountain that she had only anticipated would be a hill when she posted a call-out for help from family and friends in Haliburton County to donate what they could to homeless people in Toronto trying to escape the winter deep freeze.
“I figured - I guaranteed - with the amount of family and friends I have, I’d be able to get 10 garbage bags full,” said Dennis, who grew up in Minden and now lives in Haliburton. “But this is only from two days. In two days, 45 people came together and I have 40 garbage bags to pick up.”
Dennis’ post only spread, so that she was soon planning on taking her family’s truck plus a trailer to Toronto to distribute the goods – an estimated 50 to 55 bags – to men and women seeking a warm escape at All Saints Community Church and nearby shelters. The city of Toronto opened temporary emergency shelters, including the Moss Park armoury, and warming stations to help with the influx of people in need.
“I enjoy helping people, I love helping people,” said Dennis. “I think nothing of it. It’s really not a big deal to me, but to those people you’re going to keep warm and save lives, it is a big deal.”
Toronto street nurse Cathy Crowe told media this month that there are “600 m en and women sleeping on floors, not even in real shelters.” She said the outreach in support in getting the armoury open to help has been unprecedented. “I haven’t seen anything this large in my career.”
Dennis had seen the original call for help from her friend and former Haliburton resident Chelsea Teatro, who has been involved in outreach for the homeless living in Toronto. Teatro posted about the state of emergency caused by the frigid temperatures in December and earlier this month, when an influx of people who didn’t always use shelters were needing refuge in order to survive. Teatro was planning on canvassing friends in Peterborough for help which inspired Dennis to do the same in this area.
“In Haliburton, people are so willing to help out,” said Teatro. “That’s what I love about small towns.”
“I feel so blessed to live in Haliburton,” said Dennis. “In Haliburton, if your house burns down, within a couple of days people will clothe you, feed you and help. We come together in bad situations here. Complete strangers will come together like family. People are messaging me that I’ve never met. It just goes to show how special our little town is. They don’t have much either, but they’re willing to help someone else.”
Teatro was also surprised by the huge collection donated by residents in Haliburton County, and grateful for the work of Dennis, who drove from home to home with her two-year-old daughter to pick up the donations of clothes and Tim Hortons gift cards.
“I really encourage anyone who feels passionate about something and wants to help in some way or incite change, just go for it,” wrote Teatro on social media. “There are so many people in the world who are willing to help. Some just don’t know the best way to go about doing it, or don’t think about it until it is brought up. You could be the one to really make a difference in a community or to those less fortunate. You could help inspire someone else to do the same.”
People responding to the posts were positive, with Janene Greer commenting with similar thoughts to Teatro. “To think, had [Dennis] and Chelsea not posted about this, organized this, all those bags could’ve just sat in people’s homes and basements and not gone to those who need it,” she wrote.
Teatro said she was shocked to see people living on the streets when she moved to Toronto from Peterborough, and immediately began reaching out to help in whatever way she could.
“Some people feel safer on the streets than in the shelter,” said Teatro. “Everyone deserves to be warm and have food in their belly.”
She said she herself had lived through rough times in the past, and knew how easily homelessness could become the only option.
“It’s close to my heart because that could have been me,” she said. “That could have been me if I didn’t have people supporting me, or burned my bridges along the way.”
Teatro said she is writing notes to put with the donations that share messages of hope including, ‘it can get better,’ and ‘you’re worthy of a great life.’
“I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people we’re helping, and giving them the stuff directly, and just talking to them,” said Dennis.
“I want to show mercy to them,” she said. “I want to help them, and let them know there is some hope out there.”
When Dennis posted to the outreach group that she was headed to Toronto with her husband Ron to deliver the huge collection of donations to All Saints Church and a shelter formed at the Better Living Centre at the Exhibition Centre, she was taken aback when another volunteer reached out to offer her place to stay to help avoid the return trip in one day.
“That’s how it works,” she said. “It’s a chain. When people see me posting the ad, the more people want to give. And maybe the more people see it, they’ll want to do good.”
Dennis thanked the community for their quick, generous and positive response, including Jessica Mann of Minden’s New and Gently Used Facebook page and Sandi McElwain of Highland Street’s Why Not Collect It for helping as drop-off centres during the project, and the Haliburton 4Cs and Lily Ann for donating extra supplies they had.