THUNDER BAY -- Todd Iserhoff doesn’t think of himself as “traditional” but considering all the fuss around homelessness at City Hall on Saturday, the homeless man felt he felt he had to do something to show his gratitude.
Dignitaries and organization representatives took their turns behind the podium in City Hall’s foyer as the clock ticked toward 6 p.m. when the city’s first-ever homeless count would begin.
Iserhoff approached Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins and extended his hand, holding a cigarette in his palm. Collins nodded and the two shared a brief exchange before Iserhoff made his way back outdoors.
“I offered the chief tobacco to show respect,” he said afterwards.
“I’m not traditional but -- you know.”
Iserhoff was orphaned as a child. He bounced through foster homes and group homes and as he grew up with the lifestyle, he made his way out into the streets of Thunder Bay.
He wasn’t sure how long ago he was banned indefinitely from Shelter House over a conflict with its staff but he said he has been sleeping outside for years.
“I’ve been staying on the streets. Nothing has changed since then with homelessness.”
Those speaking inside called Saturday’s count “historic” and “the beginning of the end of homelessness in Thunder Bay.” Iserhoff was cautious to believe it but he was ready to be counted as soon as the 24-hour Point in Time count began.
“We have a right to stand and speak for ourselves,” he said. “We’re homeless.”
By “we,” he was referring to himself and Evelyn Winter who has been homeless in Thunder Bay and Sarnia for 12 years. Winter has her own conflicts with those providing services and substance challenges that can limit access to services.
She spoke highly of both Thunder Bay’s new MPs as well as its mayor as she shared their optimism over the future of solving local homelessness.
“I like to speak. That’s what they brought me, is assertiveness to speak. That’s what I’m proud of because of what they’re doing,” she said.
“Somebody has to speak up like what they’re doing right now. They’re doing support. Don Rusnak, Patty (Hajdu), Keith Hobbs – that’s what they’re doing. They’re trying to support the homeless and we should be very thankful.”