Don Wells has a new binder – and a new cause.
Having just completed a nearly 2,500-kilometre E-bike ride to raise funds and cancer awareness, Wells has set his mind on establishing a mens’ homeless shelter in Wallaceburg.
The 65 year old neatly organizes his projects on paper (“I’d rather work with a pen than a keyboard”) and is in the midst of lining up support, and completing forms.
His goal is to have a 10-bed shelter with an additional two emergency beds ready by winter.
Although this will be his first venture into opening a shelter in Chatham-Kent, Wells has more than three decades experience in Sarnia and Owen Sound.
He first began in 1982 when he was involved in founding the Inn of the Good Shepherd, and seven years ago he was instrumental in starting River City Vineyard, both in Sarnia.
All the projects Wells has been involved with have had the same principle – restoring the dignity of those who use the service.
“Unless you’ve been in their situation, you have no idea how being poor and without a home will weigh you down,” he said. “It becomes an effort just to do anything because you believe you’re beaten before you start.”
Wells said he went through a time when he had nothing, before he was able to overcome drug and alcohol addictions.
“I’ve been alcohol free for 32 years and drug free for 36,” he said. “Before I was able to change my life with God’s help. I was as down and out as a person could be.”
For more than three decades, Wells has carried with him a piece of paper with a credo he lives by: “I shall pass through this world but once only. Any good, therefore, I can show or do of a kindness to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for… so let me do it right in God’s eyes through faith, trust and prayer.”
Wells said the community owes it to those less fortunate to help.
“We wouldn’t put a dog out in the freezing cold; why do we allow it to happen to people?”
Difficult economic times make it easier for people to become homeless. “There are a lot of people know who are only a few paycheques from not having a place to live,” he said. “Looking down on people says a lot more about you than it does about them.”
Wells said those using the shelter will be referred to as guests.
“These are people we are helping transition to a better life. There is no room for judgment here.”
Although Wells is a Christian and his facility will espouse Christian values, it isn’t about religion.
“As a Christian, I have certain principles to uphold and one is that everyone is deserving of help and respect.”
During the past seven years at River City, Wells said only a handful of people have been asked to leave.
“We will have rules about conduct, and everyone, staff included, have to abide by them. The few people who don’t will be asked to leave. Maybe they just aren’t ready to accept help.”
Wells said he wants to work with any agency or group that will work with him.
“Our shelter is a temporary place while people who need help can be sure of a bed and a meal while they use other programs to get their lives back on track. What we do is an important first step but it’s not the entire journey.”
He is currently working with a number of individuals, rounding up volunteers and locating an appropriate building.
“We don’t want to be in the middle of a residential area.,” he said.
Wells said he has a number of possibilities for funding.
“I don’t want to provide any names right now but I’ve had a number of people who are interested. Just because the homeless may be less visible in smaller towns doesn’t mean they aren’t here. People know that and are ready to help.”
Wells said volunteers would staff the building.
“We won’t have any paid staff,” he said. “Those who help will be doing so because it’s the right thing.”
Anyone interested in volunteering time, goods or money should contact Wells at 519-328-1363.
Valerie Colasanti, director of employment and social services and co-chair of the Chatham-Kent Housing & Homelessness Committee, said she is well aware of the homeless issue in the community, but isn’t sure a shelter is the way to go.
She said she hasn’t spoken with Wells but would welcome the opportunity.
“We definitely want to house people. We just think there is a better model (than the shelter),” she said.