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'We need more affordable housing' says local homeless advocate

'It breaks your heart to see how they are living'

Local businesswoman Bonnie Zufelt sees the homeless problem every day from her Main St. Partners Billiards and Bowling, and she's passionate about trying to help.

This past week, Zufelt helped a young homeless man with severe frostbite on his feet requiring hospitalization.

See: City's homeless feeling the effects of freezing weather

"He couldn't feel his feet at all. What's going to happen when it's minus 25 out there, some of them don't have boots. We see them out there with street shoes. Where are they coming from? Where are they going to go?" she asks.

Zufelt is calling on the city and province for more affordable housing.

"That's it in a nutshell. Most landlords won't rent to them because of appearances, and I get that. I don't think we should make it necessarily the landlord's problem. They're not there to solve it. They have a big investment and you can understand with so much damage and the Landlord-Tenant Act is playing a big role and it's a problem, but I think it's up to the governments, at whatever level, to look at building the affordable housing, but do it in a way that involves all the social agencies there,"

Zufelt says it hard getting the homeless to accept help, regardless of the pain they are in. She estimates there are probably about 29 chronically homeless living on the streets of North Bay, but countless others couch surfing. A local homeless count in February 2016 showed that 30 people were absolutely homeless in North Bay which included those staying in shelters and unsheltered locations. 

See: Local homeless numbers revealed

And: Homeless and poverty-stricken to be surveyed as part of mayor's action plan

An organization that Zufelt volunteers with called "Boots on the Ground" has been effective in trying to help the homeless, with community help. She gives kudos to the organizers that started it.

"The difference is they are just everyday citizens. They are not people with psychology degrees or social workers. We're just normal ordinary people out trying to help.

"It's a real eye-opener," says Zufelt. "The community has come together. We've been out talking to the schools, we're collecting some items from Widdifield. businesses have put together things like clothing and shoes. We have two truckloads of stuff from Community Living."

West Ferris Secondary is having a competition to see which class can bring in the most stuff. In fact, so much has been donated the group has run out of space to store it and they are looking for somewhere bigger.

"We're just operating out of a small garage and a small storage room here and the rest of it is in the back of all our vehicles. When we go out at night we have three or four vehicles driving around so if we find someone who needs a certain size of boot we just radio each other."

Zufelt says her group is collecting all it can to help, especially with a long winter on the horizon.

But she says many in the community still don't understand.

"This poor guy came in and he had a pair of boots he's been given, and for whatever reason had no socks and had taken the liners out of the boots. He was out there for 18 hours and if you don't have the proper footwear it's tough."

Zufelt says she learned from her "eye-opening" experiences with the homeless.

"Now if I leave the building I drive down Main St. and I have everything in my car like boots, socks and mitts and hats. I've got food in there. Anything we can do to support them, even water. They are so badly dehydrated  It breaks your heart to see how they are living. It's hard to get to sleep at night, let's put it that way. You go home and ask yourself questions about what more can I do."

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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