No one wants to be homeless.
But having been in that position twice before, Paul Tavares is voluntarily doing it a third time to help those in the same situation without a choice.
His green tent just off Hespeler Road drew some negative attention from locals when it was first pitched last Monday. One person even called bylaw enforcement on him without realizing his setup on a green space adjacent to a Shopper’s Drug Mart was established with the retailer’s adamant permission.
Tavares, who once ran for mayor in Cambridge, fittingly called his initiative, “90 Days & Nights in the Cold.”
His aim is to raise funds, materials and most importantly, awareness for those who struggle with poverty in Cambridge and the agencies that help them.
So far, he’s pleased with the support – from the people who donate coffee and soup to keep him going to those pitching in to help those in need.
“I’m not surprised that there’s people in this community that care,” Tavares said with a smile. “What I am surprised by is how much. It’s continuous!”
Minutes before his interview with Global News started, he greeted a couple making a donation of multiple boxes of clothing and food with open arms and laughter. Tavares said he has received a lot of this stuff over the last week-and-a-half.
“February, generally, is the coldest month of the year and so (people need) coats, boots, hats, mitts, shoes.”
He said he has been giving it away directly or to the local shelter as fast as it comes in. Tavares had a lot of help from friends too, new and old.
Ryan Hall, owner of Canadian Hitches, met Tavares once and noticed he had nowhere to store all the items he was receiving.
“I asked him what he needed, and aside from the regular donations of food and clothing, he said he needed a storage container,” Hall recalled. “So, I got him a storage container!”
Tavares credits much of his motivation to the help of his girlfriend, Susan Muscutt. But she doesn’t try to take too much credit.
“I think (Paul) is awesome, I’m so proud of him,” Muscutt said.
She gets to go home at night, but Muscutt has been a major part of the initiative by printing flyers, helping maintain the Facebook page and coming up with new and interesting ways to help raise their fundraising target of $10,000.
Aside from direct donations, they plan on running “Toonie Tuesday” events and are even selling ad space on the construction fencing that has been temporarily donated to him to cordon off his tent.
Tavares said the money will go to various agencies that offer aid to the less fortunate in Cambridge, like The Bridges shelter across the street where he himself once had to stay.
“I don’t blame anybody for my being homeless but myself, my choices. Other people have their reasons,” Tavares said.
The Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank is another agency on Tavares’ list. Whether through lack of employment, the cost of hydro, or just bad luck, executive director Pat Singleton said the poverty problem is steadily rising in Cambridge.
“When we came here (in 1985) to the building we’re in, we were helping about 300 to 325 families a month through emergency food, and now most months between 800 and 1,000.”
Tavares has raised over $2,000 in his first ten days, which puts him on pace to come in well above his goal.
He said he knows this can’t end poverty in the area, but he hopes that by living like those he’s trying to help, he can at least put it on the public and political agenda.
“Don’t brush it under the carpet. Know that it’s there, and find out what to do about it.”
(Mark Carcasole/Global News)