519Pursuit: Providing support and confidence to homeless communities
Working at night in London as a security guard opened Alisson DeBlaire’s eyes to the gaps in supportive service for homeless citizens. In 2017, during a cold winter evening, she decided to distribute chicken noodle soup to a group of people. It was the seed of 519Pursuit, a non-profit organization with a focus on helping people who face poverty and homelessness, affectionately called “friends” by the organizers.
“I realized the difference and the positive outcome that came from that and wanted to introduce it to other people as kind of an easy bridge to support those facing homelessness by just offering friendship, by being community members that are caring,” 519Pursuit co-founder DeBlaire described.
“We just want them to know that we’re showing up day to day. And as we do that, we see a positive response.”
Nowadays, volunteers, partnerships, and members of the community provide different services and packages according to the community’s needs. Through the London Food Bank and RBC Place downtown, for instance, they make hot meals every Monday to Friday. DeBlaire said that since March of 2021 they have been able to give over 45,000 meals.
Besides meals, there is also the “Donation Day & Care Packages,” considered the heartbeat of the project. It is adapted throughout seasons and based on specific demands. In the summer and spring, for example, the package includes items such as sunscreen, sanitary wipes, running shoes, blankets, and deodorant. There are specific packs for men, women, snacks, with hygiene and medical items. This initiative is a great one for students to get involved in, by donating new or gently used items and creating packages based on the organization’s current needs.
Students can also get involved through volunteer work. As a non-profit organization, volunteers are essential. Currently, 519Pursuit has a team of 60 rotating volunteers. Week to week, around 25 individuals work to support the efforts of the organization.
“When they can offer their support, they’re there, but otherwise, they are actively participating in supporting us whether that’s our needed donations, or spreading the word online or, you know, asking their networks to support,” DeBlaire explained.
Student Breanne Cannon is one example. She had been volunteering for 519Pursuit since May 2020 and for about six months, she helped out Monday through Friday. But when she went back to school and pursued different employment, she needed to adapt her routine. Today, she still helps out two to three times a week.
“I work with people right when they get out of incarceration, they often enter homelessness,” said Cannon. “And so, it really helped me to understand how to connect with them. And the fact that I’ve leaned on 519 multiple times for clothing support, food support, I’m able to tell my clients: ‘Hey, hang out in the downtown area, there’s a team there,’ and there's just trust in the community.”
DeBlaire added that consistency in this line of work matters, stating that she wanted to make sure 519Pursuit represented a familiar place for those experiencing poverty in the community.
“We want to give, we don’t want to have to take, or we don’t want to have people let us know [their] whole story, relive everything that’s going on,” she said. “We just want them to know that we’re showing up day to day. And as we do that, we see a positive response. We see trust being built, we see conversations getting longer, and being more…supportive to where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow.”
Sometimes the relationship between the organization and the people it services is so close that volunteers even know what clothes, for example, fit better for each specific person. For Cannon, seeing the cycle of a donation from the community, to volunteering on donation days and finally, having that donation get to a “friend,” is one of the best feelings of the job.
“That person coming back and hearing things like, you know, ‘that day you guys showed up with shoes made a difference.’ It’s not that you’re looking for that, but then when you hear that full cycle and you get to remember what it looks like that community members just drop off some old clothes from sometimes a friend that passed away or whatever it was and knowing that it went that far and full circle for me,” said Cannon.
How to donate
To help with “Donation Day & Care Package,” visit 519pursuit.ca/donate-care-packages, choose a package and create a list of items that will be sent to the organization. The complete list of items as well as other information on how to get involved are available on 519pursuit.ca.