519Pursuit, winner of the 2019 Pillar Community Choice award , will be holding their 3rd Annual 519Pledge sock drive from October 1st to November 15th, with a goal of collecting 55 000 pairs of socks.

519Pursuit is a non-profit organization that focuses on helping people experiencing homelessness in the London community. Along with providing care packages and building awareness, they also work towards developing friendships with those who are facing hard times.

volunteers helping with donations at 519Pursuit
Members of the 519Pursuit outreach team assembling care packages. Photo by Carrie Freele.

The 519Pledge is a community initiative that encourages people to donate new, white socks to give shelters and services the ability to provide a clean pair to their friends in need.  The 519Pledge was created to change the conversation and perspective of homelessness and poverty in our community leading into the colder winter days.  Donors are encouraged to create conversations around homelessness in London throughout the six weeks of the campaign. Through donation and conversation, the 519Pledge encourages  internal reflection on how we can do better for the community we live in.

Fuser Carrie Freele spoke with co-founders Allison and Amber of 519Pursuit to get a better understanding of their perspective and to share some of the challenges they are facing.

You have met with a lot of people through the work that you do with 519Pursuit. What are some insights you would like to share that might help change people’s perceptions on the stigma of homelessness?

They are everyday humans just like you and I. Everyone, including your friends and family are fighting a hard battle and our friends on the street had the bad luck of not having a strong support system or running into systemic issues that see them facing the streets and stuck in cycles that are not easy to get out of. Everyone makes mistakes and bad decisions, without a strong support system and empathic community it is very difficult to maneuver the system and pull yourself up alone.

Our outreach team has many encounters on a daily basis that show the magic of humanity, and this is something we are trying to quantify to the broader public and highlight as it not only changes your perception of what it is to be homeless but you also realize how easily it is in this day and age to fall victim to homelessness.

If you could ask the London community to do one thing differently on how they interact with people facing homelessness, what would it be?

Like any social connection, it all starts with a smile, a hello, an exchange of energy. Understand that our friends live in an environment of mistrust and if you do not receive a positive reaction the  first time you connect with them, do not take this personally. It is through consistent, positive interactions and exchange in energy that you build trust and rapport (just like with anyone) which allow you to get a better understanding of that individual. Also, understand that a simple conversation can go a long way and that they do not always need to be given items or materials. Our friends are so socially isolated that a positive conversation can change their whole day and set them on a more positive course to help get them to the next step that day.

2020 has been a unique time, what are some of the barriers 519Pursuit has had to overcome or adjustments that you have made during Covid-19?

When COVID-19 was first introduced as a pandemic there was great fear for our friends who are rough sleepers (do not access shelter). The pandemic brought closures to most services and shelters in the community where those with acute risk to obtaining COVID-19 were housed in hotels. The pandemic kept people home and not in the community. This is damaging to our friends who rely on panhandling to keep a hotel room at  their  own expense, their next meal,  or the simplicity of human to human connection. Without their ability to panhandle or to obtain food with the little money they did have, food insecurity was realized as a prominent issue.

volunteers helping at 519Pursuit
Volunteers collecting supplies from the 519Pursuit storage locker. Photo by Carrie Freele.

During the time of the pandemic, co-founder Amber was laid off and had the ability to work full time to establish partnerships that enabled our organization to secure and deliver 50 meals a day to our friends sleeping rough on the street. The barriers we had to overcome was drastically increasing our daily operations and scaling quickly to meet the needs of our friends on the street to ensure they were being supported. This required daily outreach safety procedures, the acquisition of PPE to hand out to volunteers and our friends, knowledge and education handouts to our friends to keep them up to date and informed of safety procedures to themselves. We have now grown to 48 unique volunteers with operations running 6 days a week to ensure we can meet the needs of our friends living rough.

Are you expecting any future issues to arise as a result of Covid-19 ?

Yes, with the looming second wave coming in the winter and the inability to keep some of our friends housed in hotel rooms we foresee more of our friends ending up back on the street sleeping rough due to the limitations of social distancing on our cities shelters. We hope to improve the stigma surrounding homelessness by spreading awareness through our sock pledge campaign that we run every year as well as our growing recognition in the community. Some operational challenges to continue would be funding as we currently are volunteer run and our volunteers and our founders will have to go back to work to sustain themselves.

Aside from the sock drive, what are other ways people can become involved or donate?

We currently have two volunteer positions available for hands on work. You can volunteer at our donation days which runs every Saturday from 11am-11:30am at City Centre Storage at 203 Bathurst st. You can also apply to become an outreach volunteer, as we have daily outreach Monday-Friday from 10:45am – 12:30pm. We are also looking for individuals who may have a special skill set to help us scale and build capacity. Ie. accountant, lawyer, fundraiser, marketing, etc. We have a few things in the works and will be updating our website very soon, but if you would like to donate you can go to our website at www.519pursuit.ca/donate or you can connect with us further at contact@519pursuit.ca.

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This year, it is more important than ever that we come together as a community to help those in need during these trying times.  “The more conversations that are had throughout the city, the more resources for our friends are found and a greater support system is formed,”  says Allison and Amber. Whether you wish to start small or aim high towards the 519Pledge, keep in mind that some of the everyday things that we take for granted can make a much larger impact for someone else, such as a clean pair of socks or a simple acknowledgement from a passerby.

Feature photo of the 519Pursuit outreach team by Carrie Freele.

 

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