Dan Brunet volunteers to pick up trash three to four times a week. Every time he volunteers, he spends two hours picking up the garbage and cigarette butts found on the streets of downtown Greater Sudbury.
For the past four months, Brunet has lived in a tent in the Memorial Park camp. The fees he receives from volunteering to clean help him buy food, cigarettes and other items he might need.
Although he does not consider himself vulnerable, Brunet is part of the vulnerable population who volunteers with the downtown Sudbury clean-up program. The program not only keeps the downtown area free of rubbish, but it also provides financial assistance to those who may be homeless or have limited funds.
Running since April, the cleaning program runs every day of the week. A group of five different volunteers go out in the morning for two hours to collect the rubbish. Another group does the same in the afternoon. Each volunteer receives a fee of $ 10 per hour for two hours of work.
âI really like that it allows us to make money and support the community of the homeless or the less fortunate in the community, of course. It really helps,â Brunet said.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic had kept him from finding work and the clean-up program was convenient due to its proximity to Memorial Park. The team of volunteers meet in the underground parking lot of the YMCA to begin their shift.
âIt just helps me – buy cigarettes, food, whatever – if I need anything, it’s easier that way. You can make money,â he said. declared.
“[The money they earn] probably means everything to them, âsaid Martin Kimewon, the program’s senior coordinator.
“These are people who sleep outside in tents or wherever they are, so having nothing to have at least a little of something, that probably means the world to them.”
Kimewon, who has experience working in outreach and street shelter systems, tries to ensure that the clean-up program does not pass judgment on volunteers.
âEveryone has their story, so it creates this opportunity to earn a few extra dollars for things they may need,â he said.
In addition to the monetary benefits, Kimewon said many volunteers feel a sense of belonging, a sense of appreciation after helping clean up the community.
Snowball idea after heavy snowfall
The idea for the program actually came about last winter when the Durham Street YMCA was operating a warm-up center for the vulnerable population.
According to Kendra MacIsaac, vice president of health and wellness at the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario, the YMCA had received monetary donations from some members of the community to help with this operation. She said after a huge snow spill, customers using the warming center offered to shovel around the YMCA.
âThey wanted to help and do something, so I think they just felt a purpose and a sense of belonging,â she said. It was then that she decided to use the donations for a fee for those who helped clear the snow.
MacIsaac is also co-chair of the Downtown Business Improvement Area (ZAC), also known as Downtown Sudbury. When she spoke to the board about the fees for customers who shoveled, that’s when they decided to create the cleanup program.
âIt ended up snowballing,â she said.
Kyle Marcus, CEO of the Downtown Sudbury BIA, said the program was initially funded by a small investment from the BIA to help buy things like gloves, dustpans, tongs and a mobile sanitation cart.
âIt has become a 100% community supported program, which means it works 100% thanks to donations from our wonderful community,â he said.
The fees are funded by community donations. Donors receive a charitable donation tax receipt.
“We’re just actively looking for sponsors so that we can continue this program, and will continue to do so as long as people sponsor it,” MacIsaac said.
“A sense of purpose and pride in the community”
The program is expected to continue through the winter, but instead of picking up litter, volunteers will help clear storefronts and parking meters.
âThere are always these little things that can be done beyond to make downtown a more welcoming place,â said Marcus.
“It really gave our vulnerable population a positive place, a sense of purpose and pride in the community they already live in.”