PENTICTON - With the season’s first cold snap upon us, Penticton’s homeless are finding they have a new champion for their needs in Mike Forster.
Forster is currently training to be a licensed practical nurse and while talking to harm reduction nurses from Interior Health during his studies, he began to realize the how much the homeless in Penticton need.
“I also met with the lady who runs Soupateria and I came to the realization about the problems and stigma these people face," he says. "It’s hard for them to get the help they need."
He began collecting warm clothing and started putting together care packages with socks and toiletries to distribute to the city’s homeless. He then created a Facebook page calling it Keep the Cold off Penticton, as well as a gofundme website with the same name.
Forster says when he put it on Facebook "it just exploded."
He originally intended it to be a one time thing, but after seeing the response, he’s going to continue as long as donations keep coming in. He's getting as many as 40 messages a day through Facebook, alerting him to individuals on the street who could use some help.
“The reality is, I know most of these guys now, I’ve kind of built a rapport," he says. "I got a message from a lady who works downtown who said she saw three guys on Main Street who looked like they were freezing, so I went and checked it out."
"I got some hot chocolate, my SUV is always packed with stuff, I got some jackets and some hoodies and drove down there and just started helping them out.”
Forster says it’s hard to tell in many cases why these people are on the street, but it doesn’t matter to him.
“If they’re asking for help, I’m going to give it to them,” he says. He’s out every night doing something because he says he has to.
Other members of the community are stepping up to help Forster.
Earlier this week, Parker's Chrysler set up a drop box at the car dealership for people to drop off gently used winter clothing for Forster to distribute. Everyone who drops off a donation gets an ice scraper. Speedpro Signs has printed the logo for the collection box.
Forster has also been able to recruit a few volunteers to help him out, and he’s looking into the possibility of becoming a charitable entity.
“I really didn’t expect any of this, but being in nursing really opened my eyes."
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