Homelessness in Belleville continues to be a huge concern for those who struggle with it every day and the ambassadors working to combat it.
The issue surrounding homelessness and its contributors such as poverty, mental illness, addiction and domestic abuse, along with a lack of resources especially for seniors, has been thrust back into the spotlight this week in light of a local fundraiser that is taking the Internet by storm.
On Friday, local realtor John-Ross Parks locked himself on the roof of the Royal LePage building in downtown Belleville and is committed to stay camped out until he raises $25,000 for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. He has been live streaming the entire event 24/7, as he not only raises funds but awareness around how onerous it can be for someone who is impoverished to rebuild their life.
Through the I Can Rebuild campaign Parks has to raise money for necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. The other half of the challenge that has proved to be highly entertaining for his sponsors and viewers has Parks doing everything from eating wet dog food and dying his hair bright red to shaving off his eyebrows and getting a tattoo. He squirmed at how eating a banana with a can of sardines has been the worst challenge yet.
By 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Parks had raised $14,823. All funds will go directly to the local Canadian Mental Health Association’s Diane’s Place – a five bed transitional shelter for homeless women aged 24 to 82. The shelter has helped 40 women in need during 2016.
The 31-year-old said it was after hearing from CMHA Executive Director Sandie Sidsworth about a woman who successfully went through the shelter system and relapsed that he decided to embark on the mission. Unfortunately after transitioning back into the shelter system, Parks said the woman died.
He said the biggest eye openers have come from his fellow community members who are sharing their personal stories in the live forum of fleeing domestic abuse and then overcoming it within the shelter system. He said on more than a few occasions he has been brought to tears. One story in particular was shared of a woman who was forced to flee an abusive relationship last minute leaving her child behind. The mother and child were later reunited but Parks said it really struck a chord.
Sadly it’s all too often the Executive Director of Belleville’s 3 Oaks Foundation Sandy Watson-Moyles hears stories such as this. While she couldn’t speak directly to Parks’ fundraiser she congratulated his efforts as November is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She said the numbers across the country and locally are staggering referring to a recent national report by the Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Gregory Taylor that concluded almost 58,000 girls and women were victims of family violence in 2014, and every four days a woman was killed by a family member.
In 2015, the Belleville shelter provided assistance to 130 women and 85 kids seeking shelter from abusive relationships. Watson-Moyles said that’s significant for their 16-bed shelter. She said more than 600 women and children are also helped annually through outreach in the community.
Parks said another element that has really hit home for him is the dire need for men’s and seniors’ shelters in the City.
Sidsworth who also commended Parks for his plight has been very vocal about the need for more shelter beds in the City, particularly for seniors. She said they are continually forced to turn people away because there are no beds. She expects by the end of 2016 they will have had 1000 refusals for bed support.
Hastings County Social Services chairman Garnet Thompson has been working with a committee linked to the John Howard Society on getting a new shelter built in Belleville.
The Belleville City councillor explained how efforts to secure funding and a piece of property for a facility that would include six emergency beds and 24 transitional units are ongoing.
Thompson said the need is great as men and seniors continue to be sent to Kingston and Peterborough.
While the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation’s mandate is strictly for women and children, Parks said he is more than 100 percent committed to help in anyway he can with efforts for a transitional shelter in Belleville.
Sidsworth said what she has enjoyed the most about watching this initiative grow is how it has sparked conversation. She said that’s the best way to help break down the barriers and eliminate the stigma attached to homelessness, poverty, mental illness, addiction and domestic violence.
If you or someone you know is in need of support call (613) 310-OPEN (6736), the Canadian Mental Health Association at (613) 969-8874 or The Canadian Red Cross at (613) 966-0730.