Joey Clavette: Amplifying the voices of marginalized writers

By Janet Allingham RN

Why would a young university student give up a semester of school? In the case of Joey Clavette, the reason was altruistic. Joey decided he wanted to found a newspaper that would give homeless people a voice.

Joey traces his decision back to an ethics course he took at the University of Ottawa. Ethics is a branch of knowledge that has to do with what’s right and what’s wrong. Joey says he was asking himself “How does a good person behave?”

During the course, he’d read about a British ethicist, John Rawls, who suggested that the way to “do good” is to put yourself in the shoes of marginalized people-the folks at the sidelines: homeless people, for example.

Joey felt that they needed a voice and that a newspaper focused on their issues could be the means to that end. And so The Wrench was born. For over half a year now it’s been part of Ottawa’s streetscape.

Joey believes that it’s reasonable to imagine a city where everybody has a home. For him, home is important: a place where you can count on support; where shelter is adequate; and where you can feel comfortable.

According to Joey, it’s reasonable to imagine a city where everybody has a place to call “home”. He wants Canadians to think about homelessness in Canada’s 150th year as a problem that can be fixed-something each of us can do something about. In his case, he founded a paper.

October 20th, 2017|Categories: Ask Me Ottawa, Hometown150|0 Comments

Terrie Meehan: Barriers only exist if we let them exist

Photo by Dr Peter Stockdale

Terrie loves chocolate and her service dog, who spends most of his time snuggling up against her shoulder. She takes the bus to get to her doctor’s appointment downtown and is not really fond of snow piles on the streets of Ottawa’s. I think most of us can agree that we relate really well with her?

Terrie became homeless at the age of 16: “the decision was either to leave or to jump off the balcony. So I left.” Her life has always lacked stability: divorced parents, being enrolled in 16 different schools, and living a life between shelters, couch-surfing and non-permanent housing. Despite all the difficulties in her life, Terrie found help and a place to stay. The key in her pocket is her key to a self-determined life. “I can choose to close the door and just be with myself and my animals. I can choose what to eat, when to sleep and when to get up. And if I want to sleep on the couch for the night and not in my bed, I will just do it!”

Terrie has mastered the art of finding happiness in the small delights of life. Furthermore, it makes her happy to advocate for others in need, whether it is professionally, as a member and co-chair of the communication committee for the Alliance to End Homelessness, or as an ordinary Ottawa neighbour who is committed to making the city a more ‘homeful’ place. Everyone can effect change. “It’s not difficult,” she says, “just talk to folks on the street, smile at them, and treat them as human beings. They are grateful for every single word.” Barriers only exist if we let them exist.

“Pay it forward to a person in need and you will be surprised how much fun it is”, she says and laughs.

Terrie believes that each of us can contribute towards making Ottawa a more ‘homeful’ city for everyone – the small and the big actions together will keep the transformation going.

Her advice: “Personally, I love to annoy politicians whenever I can. But I know that it isn’t everyone’s favourite sport. It’s important that you just do what you can.”


October 6th, 2017|Categories: Ask Me Ottawa, Hometown150|0 Comments

Giving the essentials: The Backpacks for the Homeless initiative

By Erin Dej

On Christmas Eve this year 2,300 people experiencing homelessness in Ottawa are expected to receive backpacks filled with hygiene products, clothing, treats, and a Tim Hortons gift card thanks to an initiative created by Ron Pitre.

On October 15, 2012 Ron’s house caught fire and he lost everything.  Luckily, no one was hurt and he had tenant insurance to help him get back on his feet. Spending thousands of dollars at once to furnish his new home left Ron feeling uneasy, and he saw it as a calling to help those in need. Ron had previously experienced a brief bout of homelessness and there was a period where he relied on food banks, including over Christmas time. He remembers how important the Christmas food boxes were to help make the holiday season special for his daughter. After the fire, Ron realized “I’m made to help someone”.

That year Ron, a music lover, attended the Shepherds of Good Hope’s Christmas Eve mass, with his keyboard and a stack of Tim Horton’s gift cards in tow. That night began something bigger than Ron could have imagined. Wanting to do more, in 2013 he handed out gift bags. In 2014 he distributed 230 backpacks, thanks to the support of Giant Tiger. In 2015 things really took off. Besides Shepherds, Backpacks for the Homeless now partners with the Ottawa Mission, Ottawa Inner City Ministries, Operation Come Home, Centre 507, the Salvation Army, and Le Gîte Ami distributing over 1,000 backpacks.

Ron Pitre and his team load up on some of the essentials that go into the backpacks

Ron Pitre and his team load up on some of the essentials that go into the backpacks


Ron now has a team of volunteers coordinating the project. Between those who donate money in the fundraising campaign to buy the backpacks and Tim Hortons cards, to the volunteers who take a backpack (or two!) to fill with essential items, to the 3 team leaders who manage the logistics of getting backpacks to and from volunteers and to the designated organizations, Ron estimates that over 1,000 people are committed to helping the cause. The volunteers, Ron says, are excited to help. Workplaces, churches, and families get involved, with many children leaving handmade Christmas cards in the backpacks. Ron says he’s overwhelmed by people’s generosity and enthusiasm to help Ottawa’s homeless.

Ron has learned a lot about homelessness over the years. He chokes up as he describes the stories people have shared with him. Ron says that he’s learned about the causes of homelessness, “it’s not because they want to be there or choose it”. Abuse, intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous Peoples, and the lack of affordable housing all contribute to homelessness. Ron’s hope is that the backpacks give people a sense of dignity and warmth that they deserve during the Christmas season.

The Backpacks for the Homeless initiative is working to raise another $5,000 in donations to reach its 2016 goal of providing 2,300 backpacks to Ottawa’s homeless. They are holding a fundraising event this Thursday, November 17th at 6:30pm at Broadway Bar and Grill (1896 Prince of Wales Drive). Anyone wishing to volunteer to fill a backpack can sign up at or visit their Facebook page.

November 16th, 2016|Categories: Ask Me Ottawa|3 Comments

Centre 454 – An Integral Part of the Community

By Sarina Bhaiwala

If you stop by Centre 454 anytime during the week, you’ll find a blossoming garden and welcoming community. First established in the basement of St. Alban’s church in 1945, the day program is one of five community ministries of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. Centre 454 offers drop-in support services and social activities for individuals who are precariously housed or homeless in Ottawa.

Although the Centre changed locations to Murray Street more than a decade ago, it returned to its original location on King Edward in 2012 after receiving city and diocesan funding to restore St. Alban’s basement. This decision was accompanied by some concerns from the surrounding neighbourhood. Residents feared the Centre would bring drug use, vandalism, litter, and conflict with residents. Jen Crawford, the Executive Director of Centre 454, understands where the community’s worries stemmed from. With all the social service agencies in this area, “there is already a lot of action going on,” she said.

The Centre was aware of these concerns, and was proactive in building a positive relationship with the surrounding community after the move. The staff worked to quell the misunderstandings regarding the Centre and its visitors; they committed to doing a walk around the building every morning to make sure there was no garbage and that everything was in order. “It’s three years later and our staff still do it,” said Crawford. The Centre has also participated in the citywide “Cleaning the Capital” event every year to clean the three-block radius that surrounds its property.


September 14th, 2016|Categories: Ask Me Ottawa|1 Comment

“Keep on breathing”: Jim Jenkins wins at more than soccer in the Homeless World Cup

By Erin Dej

Jim Jenkins is a goalie for an international soccer league. He has also experienced homelessness, mental health challenges, and struggled with addiction. Jim was one of a few Canadians, and only Ottawa resident, chosen for the 2015 Street Soccer Canada – National Team who played in the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam, Netherlands last summer.

It has been a long road for Jim to get to Amsterdam. He spent a year and a half in Ottawa shelters, some of that time fighting for his life with double pneumonia while detoxing. Never one to give up, Jim decided that “life is still a goal” and fought to regain his health and his life. He eventually secured housing through Ottawa Community Housing and has remained successfully housed for the last eight years.


August 5th, 2016|Categories: Ask Me Ottawa|0 Comments