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A winter walk in the shoes of the homeless

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jan 24, 2014 - 3:52 PM |
Kevin Serviss, executive director of The Samaritan Centre, speaks to Ernie Bechard, one of the organization's clients. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Kevin Serviss, executive director of The Samaritan Centre, speaks to Ernie Bechard, one of the organization's clients. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Handful of people sleeping outside in sub-zero weather

While most of the roughly 600 Sudburians who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness are able to find a warm place to sleep in winter, the executive director of The Samaritan Centre said there's a handful who sleep outside.

Kevin Serviss said he's seen recent evidence of people sleeping outside in the sub-zero weather.

“Just on the west corner of the (downtown) arena, there's an exhaust vent, and there's some blankets there,” he said. “It's just probably one of the places where somebody has made a little temporary lodging.”

Serviss estimates there's two to four people sleeping on Sudbury's streets on any given winter night, possibly because mental health issues prevent them from getting along with others at homeless shelters.

The Samaritan Centre helps as much as it can, he said, with one of its services, the Elgin Street Mission, staying open 24/7 during extreme cold weather alerts as a warming centre.

It used to stay open day and night all winter long, but had to discontinue the practice this winter for financial and security reasons.

Every day, between 300 and 400 people visit The Samaritan Centre's various services — which include the Elgin Street Mission, the Corner Clinic and New Hope Outreach — for a meal, hot shower, free clothing, medical care or to do laundry.

While most of the organization's clients are somewhere on the spectrum of homelessness, Serviss estimates around 10 per cent are actually the working poor or students.

To draw awareness to their plight of the homeless in the winter, as well as to raise funds for the Samaritan Centre's services, the organization is hosting its second annual Coldest Night of the Year event Feb. 22.

Participants are asked to gather at the Rainbow Centre mall at 5 p.m. From there, they'll walk either two kilometres or five kilometres through the city's downtown and the Donovan.

Afterwards, participants are invited to a chili supper at the mall.

“The thought process of having a winter walk is it's a way of identifying with some of the poor and the homeless who may not have a place of refuge,” Serviss said.

The 300 walkers who participated in last year's event raised $50,000, and Serviss said he hopes to raise $75,000 this year.

For more information, or to sign up for the event, email [email protected], phone 705-669-0111, or visit


The Samaritan Centre, located at 344 Elgin St., accepts donated items. Especially needed is warm winter clothing, especially in men's sizes, non-perishable foods and personal hygiene items such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste.

Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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