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Helping the Homeless Through Winter

Giving back makes good business sense!

This motto is something that has guided me throughout my 25-year entrepreneurial career, reminding me that with any success I have, it’s still important to share that success with those less fortunate.

It’s the reason I’ve founded and commit to Project Winter Survival, a remarkable event where volunteers come together to help the homeless survive the cold winters. With the growing Canada-wide demand for Project Winter Survival’s kits, being able to help as many of the homeless as possible is what my Bargains Group team pushes for, and this year were able to pack and distribute 3,000 kits.

However, this year we were able to make an even bigger difference in one person’s life.

This is Peter’s story…

There are a lot of reasons ordinary people end up homeless. Peter’s reason was his divorce. He had worked in the military while he was married, but after the cracks in his marriage became too numerous, he found himself alone and without a place to stay. Looking for a fresh start, Peter left the military and began taking work in construction. It was a step in the right direction, and it helped subdue a depression that was had been growing since his divorce. However, a back injury left him unable to continue the physically draining work, and Peter was once again left with few options.

People often say that giving up is not an option, unfortunately, the reality is giving up is often the most readily accessible option. After being dealt so many bad hands, Peter gave up.

Without a job and without someone to lean on, Peter soon found his life snowballing out of control.

Like many in similar situations, it is extremely difficult to break free of the cycle, and before long Peter found himself vying for space in the local shelters.

With limited space and only so many local shelters, there were nights when he had no choice but to sleep on the streets.

It was a world he was unfamiliar with, and there didn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. He became accustomed to being on the street during the day — waiting for people to give him anything. At night, he befriended others within the shelter system, and began to join them for late nights where they would drink in excess. These negative influences surrounded Peter within the system, but these groups take care of their own, so it can be so easy to get mixed in with a crowd you might not otherwise. Peter felt as though he was without options.

In the midst of this seemingly unending cycle, someone said something to Peter that resonated.

“Never get comfortable in the gutter.”

Peter had become comfortable in the gutter.

Reaching his lowest point, he prayed, asking “what can I do now?”

At this time, Peter was often staying at The Good Neighbours Club, a Toronto shelter for men over 50. Desperate for a spark to turn his life back around, he began volunteering there. Peter would spend his days helping out in the clothing room, distributing donated clothing; driving the Meals on Wheels truck to members who can’t get to the building; and counselling young kids about life on the streets, helping them to avoid the common pitfalls that so many get stuck in.

Peter’s life again began to snowball, this time because of the positive. He was inspired.

For the first time in a very long time, Peter’s life was improving. His situation was still desperate, but the darkness that drained his motivation was finally subsiding. He began to focus again on his music, and he was touching people’s lives which drove him to keep pushing.

Through The Good Neighbours Club, Peter learned about Project Winter Survival 2013. He knew instantly he wanted to be a part of the event.

This is when I first met Peter.

He arrived at our Distribution Day willing to help out in anyway. I was blown away when I asked him how he was, and his response was “Outstanding!”

How could someone who’s faced such a desperate situation be so positive?!

Peter told his story to the 200 volunteers present and painted a picture as too how important events like Project Winter Survival are. It was touching to watch him take part, wanting to help out people who were in the same situation he was.

As the day’s events wound down, I approached Peter to thank him for helping out, and to inquire if there was anything he needed; clothes, food, anything I could help him with.

“The only thing I really need is for someone to give me a chance. I need a job.”

I told him he could start tomorrow!

For the past couple weeks, Peter has been a part of our Bargains Group family. He’s been a great member of the team, and a reminder that the work we do really makes a difference in these people’s lives. His positive attitude has been incredibly uplifting, and the support of around him has given Peter even more motivation to follow his dreams.

He told me he’s thankful to have people care about him like we do. Having people around who want him to succeed is driving him. He’s let people down before and he won’t do it again.

Peter may not succeed, but as he put it, “It won’t be because I didn’t try.”

Project Winter Survival is all about making a difference in the lives of homeless people across Canada, but having the opportunity to do so much more, to give Peter a real shot at turning his life around, it is an experience I’ll never forget.

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