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Silent crisis: Blue Door marks 40 years fighting homelessness

CEO sets goal of ending homelessness within York Region in 10 years

Allan Prain knows what it is like to be homeless.

Speaking to a crowd at Aurora Town Park, the 63-year-old described getting forced to move out of his room during the pandemic. He had been homeless several times before that, but managed to find a place to stay at the temporary shelter at Kingsbridge before getting into a Blue Door shelter.

“The people at Blue Door, they care,” he said, adding he has since been able to find a new place with their support. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had ended up on the street again at my age.”

Blue Door celebrated 40 years of helping the homeless in York Region with a barbecue at Aurora Town Park Aug. 27. Dozens of people and dignitaries from around the region came together to recognize the charity’s efforts to provide housing and services for the homeless.

CEO Michael Braithwaite reflected on the beginnings of the organization back in 1982, the community coming together wanting to help its most vulnerable citizens.

“There’s a lot to be proud of,” Braithwaite said. “We don't want to rest on our laurels. The job’s not done. We’re celebrating, but we’re also thinking about the future and what needs to be done.”

The charity has accomplished plenty through its emergency housing programs, health supports and social enterprises. In 2021, it provided more than 300 individuals support and served over 64,000 meals, with 4,500 nights of safety through its supportive/transitional housing programs. It runs three emergency homes, one for men, one for families and one for male youth.

Plenty of dignitaries attended to offer their congratulations and express appreciation for Blue Door’s impact on the community. Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas said homelessness remains a silent crisis in York Region.

“Blue Door has helped countless community members find shelter, homes, and manage other challenges that come with changing life circumstances,” he said. “I hope that one day, with the help of organizations like Blue Door, we can ensure everyone can have a safe place to call home.”

One recent program Blue Door has launched is Construct, which provides the vulnerable with training to get into the construction sector.

Conrad Arnold spoke to the crowd about Construct helping him and providing something to work toward. He also used Blue Door’s housing services but eventually found a room to live in. 

He spoke to the judgment some have against homelessness.

“Receiving ODSP, people were looking at me, ‘Oh, you’re a deadbeat, you don’t want to work.’ People don’t know what my life has been like … If people want to mark me as a bum or a deadbeat, I don’t care. I don’t need them in my life.”

People also look down on those working jobs like fast food, Prain said.

“They don’t know the hardship people go through,” he said. “A job is a job, and it’s put a roof over my head.”

The event also acted as a fundraiser, with tables for donations and a silent auction. Bell Let's Talk donated $20,000 through its community fund.

As the organization marked 40 years, Braithwaite was already looking ahead to the 50th anniversary. He said he wants to see homelessness end in York Region in that time, adding that it will take thousands of homes built and supports that prevent individuals from getting homeless in the first place.

“We can do this. We saw this during the pandemic, where there’s political will and dollars put toward it, we can move mountains quick,” he said. “It takes community to do this, and we have the support of the community, or we wouldn't have been here after 40 years. So it can and will be done.”