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COLUMN: Local woman's plight puts Coldest Night in perspective

Ahead of important Feb. 24 fundraiser, Lighthouse officials share poignant story of woman's experience with addiction, homelessness

This is the 21st in a series of columns written by staff from The Lighthouse to help the community better understand people experiencing homelessness and those who support them. This column appears every other Monday.

A woman (who asked to remain anonymous) comes into the warming centre on a cold night. It’s -16 degrees Celsius outside, and she’s glad to be out of the snow.

She checks in with the warming centre staff and is given a mat to sleep on. The warming centre isn’t a safe-use site, but when people are desperate, they sometimes use substances before they come in. Unfortunately, she accidentally overdoses.

Lighthouse staff quickly realize what’s happening, and they skilfully respond to the overdose by administering naloxone. The woman regains consciousness and is offered the support of emergency services, but she refuses and leaves the building.

A little while later, she returns. In the grip of her addiction, she has overused another substance. Again, staff provide life-saving measures and bring her back. This time, she agrees to receive support from emergency services.

Later the next day, the same woman is walking in the community after being discharged from the hospital. She finds a cellphone and wallet on the sidewalk. The money is readily available, but she doesn’t steal it. Her first thought is finding the person who lost it. The phone rings, and she answers with an apology for answering. It’s the person who lost the phone and wallet, and they’re thankful they’ve been found. The woman arranges to meet with the owner, has them describe the phone and wallet, and hands them back. She’s offered a reward but declines until the owner insists.

A few days later, she’s attacked and beaten. When The Lighthouse’s outreach team is out in the encampments, they come across her. They support her immediate needs and connect her to North Simcoe Victim Services, which specifically provides services to victims through emotional support, practical assistance, referrals, and advocacy. She is now sheltered safely and is planning to work on her addictions.

This is just one example of a story from an individual who has received services from The Lighthouse. Stigma against people experiencing substance abuse would think the woman in this story would steal the wallet and phone, but it’s not always like that. Stories like this are the reason we do what we do.

On the way to housing, there are many barriers people face, and our goal is to provide support as needed in order to keep people safe and well until they secure housing. Everyone deserves hope.

One way the community helps is coming together for one of the largest events in Orillia. Coldest Night of the Year is now less than two weeks away. On Feb. 24, hundreds of people will be walking together in Orillia.

Why do we walk together as a community?

We walk to create awareness for people who have no home, and to fundraise to support people and families experiencing hurt, hunger and homelessness in our community. Bring your families and friends — there’s room for everyone. This will be the 11th year The Lighthouse is hosting Coldest Night of the Year in Orillia.

Our goal this year is to raise $200,000 to support our daily operations: 58 emergency shelter beds for men, women and youth, 20 supportive housing units, outreach, a community meal program, and medical and mental health services.

New this year: We are excited to be holding the entire event outside. Registration, opening ceremonies, yummy food and celebrations will all be outside. First, because we couldn’t find an event location in Orillia large enough to accommodate us. Good problem to have. Secondly, because for most of us, we have the privilege to go home after two hours at the event. Others in our community, who we are walking for, will remain outside all night long.

The walk begins and ends in the parking lot behind the eCapital building at 174 West St. S. Walkers can choose between a two- or five-kilometre route, enjoying warm drinks at rest stops along the way.

Join us. Create a team, join a team, volunteer, or donate. It takes a community.

Find out more here.

Linda Goodall is the executive director at The Lighthouse and can be reached at [email protected].

Rosemary Petersen is the assistant director at The Lighthouse.

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