Ed Pickersgill has a Plan B for his Out of Poverty program for at-risk and marginalized residents in the downtown core, which is currently operating on the sidewalk outside 40 Baker St.
“Buy myself some long johns,” said Pickersgill with a laugh on Tuesday.
Pickersgill, 72, has run the program, offering food, clothing and informal support for people in the downtown core since the mid-90s. It has had several homes, including several years at 40 Baker St.
But last April Out of Poverty had to vacate the premises when other tenants left and they couldn't afford to rent the entire space.
The building’s new tenants, the Church of Scientology, inherited Pickersgill's presence on the sidewalk, where they have operated on tables and out of boxes for the past 24 weeks.
But with the winter coming, Pickersgill has been trying to find new permanent digs.
“My target is to have a place by Halloween,” he said. “Try and get a place inside before the snow comes.
“We’ve put a couple of offers in on a couple of vacant commercial spaces, using a local realtor, and at the full value they were listed at, but they were turned down,” Pickersgill said.
Another offer on a third location is being prepared.
“Some people say it’s the NIMBy thing. I understand, it’s a stereotype that gets in the way. But what I do know that we have almost no behaviour issues at all,” Pickersgill said.
“I think it’s because of community respect, valuing what we’re doing, and we’re not professionalized.”
Depending on the time of the month, Out of Poverty sees an average of 70 people a day drop by to rummage through bins of clothing or grab a bit of food at the location, which is open Monday through Friday from noon to 3 p.m. Some days it’s over 100.
At the end of the day everything is packed into containers and a volunteer’s pickup truck takes it away for the night.
The service operates on a shoe-string budget through donations from the general public. Their own 200 for 40 fundraising initiative has raised thousands of dollars through public donations that have helped keep the doors – or sidewalk – open.
Pickersgill said they would likely have more success finding a new home if they were government funded and operated a little more mainstream, but that’s not what Out of Poverty is all about.
“We have babes in strollers, we have young people. We have people almost as old as me. But there’s a level of respect here … if people feel respected, they’ll give respect back.”
Pickersgill said if a new indoor home can’t be found, they will relocate the sidewalk offering.
“I have a couple of spots that I’ve looked at where we could set up, that have a bit more shelter, so we’ll see.”