When the Fort William BIA (business improvement area) and PACE (People Advocating for Change through Empowerment) united in a partnership, the benefits were clearly visible.

The south core of Thunder Bay is cleaner, lawns are cut, snow is shovelled and the people doing the work are rewarded with honorariums and self-esteem.

Georgina McKinnon, the executive director of PACE, described her organization as a centre for peer support and advocacy for people that live with mental health and addictions, many of whom are homeless.

“We hire people that have lived experience with addictions and mental health . . . and people that nobody else will hire,” she said.

McKinnon explained how people who frequent the streets and alleyways earned small nominal gift cards from PACE for their efforts in cleaning up the areas.

“It’s about giving our members the feeling that they earned some money today,” she said. “They don’t want a handout. They really want to make money to spend it on whatever — we don’t judge — but it gives them something to put on a resume moving forward to apply for different jobs.”

PACE, which is provincially and municipally funded, has the ability and skills to train its clients on the safety and operation of landscaping equipment and lawn care tools as well as basic first aid.

“We don’t certify them all in First Aid but our employees are certified and the people in the program at least learn the skills,” McKinnon said.

When the organization moved into the Fort William south core district, their clients cleaned the sidewalks and back alleys and their efforts were pointed out to their neighbour, the Fort William BIA, by Thunder Bay Coun. Brian Hamilton.

Raechel Reed, the co-ordinator of the Fort William BIA, explained how they were looking for an organization to contract for cleaning and maintenance in the area. PACE, which was now established in the district, was a perfect match.

“We asked PACE to sit down (with us) and maybe we could develop some sort of work program where we can pay what we usually pay for a maintenance company or a property management company to clean up the area, help with the garbage or do some snow in front of one of the businesses,” she said. “They were on board 100 per cent.”

Reed says the clients of PACE, some of whom currently live in tents, are given meaningful work to earn an honourarim, which in turn develops pride.

“This can maybe turn somebody’s life around as a result,” she said. “They’re very engaged in gaining more experience.”

PACE clients enjoyed a fun and festive job of installing lights on the large 15-foot Fort William BIA tree in preparation for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony last week.

McKinnon, meanwhile, is looking ahead at the potential for both the PACE organization and its clients.

“Through our skills development program we’re going to seek more partnerships in the community,” she said. “We started with the Fort William BIA but I would like to see PACE contracted by other BIAs to keep their neighborhoods clean.”

By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 16, 2022 at 21:18

This item reprinted with permission from   The Chronicle-Journal   Thunder Bay, Ontario
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