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Emergency shelter built for homeless Nova Scotia man in heartwarming story

Thursday, June 25th 2020, 4:03 pm - When a homeless man was discovered living outdoors with almost no protection from the elements, concerned citizens took action.

Teacher Calvin Stevens of Eskasoni, N.S., went to his community to help out a homeless man by constructing an emergency shelter where he could take refuge during cold winter nights. Read below for the story of how he and a friend got involved, in Stevens' own words.

How did it come to be that you wanted to build a shed like this for Noel?

Me and my friend Nick, we would go around the community and we would see people walking around in winter that weren't really dressed for winter, and some of them were our old friends, and we just like to give back to the community every chance we get. There were previous experiences where we would just take winter boots and winter gloves and hats and longjohns to people and they really appreciate it, especially those guys that are working outside.

One day, we noticed this guy, Noel, walking around, and he wasn't equipped to be dressed to be walking around in winter and it was frigid. So we ran into town and we got him winter boots, longjohns, hats and gloves and we came back to the community that evening and we were trying to find him but we couldn't find him, and it was a bitterly cold night. We were driving around the community asking people and nobody knew where he was. We were outside at the gaming centre and one of our friends walks out and we ask her, do you know where Noel lives? And she was like, yeah, he lives outside in a little shed in the back of the health centre.

So, me and Nick went over and then we parked the car, and we got out of the car and it was maybe 30 seconds and we were already feeling the chill. We were knocking on the shed and nobody was answering and it was about a minute in and I said, I don't think anybody lives here man, I mean, how could anybody live here? So, just to make sure, I tried to force it open, and that's when I heard Noel say "hey, hey, hey, hey," and I was like, "what the heck?"

I ask him, is that you Noel? And he said, yeah, it's me. I was like, can you come out here? We have some stuff for you.

And then he came out of the shed. How he was living was he would wrap several layers of blankets on top of himself and he had an extension cord to the health centre and he had a little heater inside underneath the blankets. And that's how he survived in the evenings. We were out there maybe five minutes talking to him making sure he fit all the clothes, and we took the tags off so he can't take them back. I was hard-pressed to be out there for 5 minutes. My fingers were frozen. My ears were frozen to the point that they were hurting and he went back into his shed.

I got into the car and I got very emotional and I couldn't understand how somebody could live like that and survive these bitter cold nights. That night, Nick took me home and that night I was lying in my bed, I couldn't sleep the entire night. I was here, comfy and warm in my bed while this human being was outside, living outside in the elements.

The next day, I got very upset and I found out some more info that people have tried to help him, but because of his mental illness, he decides to live alone and away from people. The band has offered him apartments, but with rules. He doesn't want any rules. He chooses to live like that. He chooses to live alone.

So, that's when I decided to fundraise. Nicholas and I started fundraising for this back in February. Once we told community members the story, they started donating all kinds of money to help me build this shed. When we couldn't afford items, people would give me second-hand items like the siding. It's used siding that came off of somebody's house, and I retrofitted it and I trimmed it up as best as I could and it turned out beautifully.

I wanted to make sure it retained heat, with or without power. It's so insulated, the bottom is all spray foamed, the whole shell is insulated, the roof has two-feet insulation. So even without any source of heat, at least it'll retain heat.

Noel and Calvin Image credit: Calvin Stevens.

What are temperatures like in Eskasoni? Do you get pretty harsh Winters here?

Oh yeah, we get pretty harsh Winters. We go from -30 to -36 on the coldest nights. Sometimes it's bone-chilling. It goes right into your skin and right into your bones. I've worked outside all my life and I have built things outside all my life and so after six hours of being outside, I'm stiff and can barely get into the house and I have to sit by a warm fire to get myself moving again.

When I think of that and I think of this young man, he's living outside every day, all the seasons of the year, it just breaks my heart. I thought of him, and I thought of my kids and I couldn't live with the fact that, if I go to sleep tonight, maybe tomorrow they'll find him frozen. I couldn't live with myself not doing anything, and me, Nick and my kids, we made this a project for us to do for him.

How did he respond when you told him about it?

It was a bit of a surprise. At first, he didn't believe us. He was like, sure, yeah, whatever. And then I documented the whole process because I had to be accountable for the money that the people were giving me. So Nick took care of the finances and I would purchase the stuff and he would send me the money and every dollar amount that people gave us was all recorded and shown how it was spent. So the floor system was documented, it was on Facebook. The walls were documented. Every single step of the way was documented and it was explained where the money went and how the money was used.

Do you know how much it cost in total?

It was about $4,000, but the money value wasn't what's important. What's important is at least this will be an emergency shelter for him to survive those cold nights. It's not meant to be a permanent home for him, as it doesn't have a toilet or running water. It's really, basically, an emergency shelter on those cold, bitter nights for him to take refuge when he wants to.

Where will it be placed?

I built it on my property but I'm not responsible for the safety of the community or the band, or responsible for the safety of Noel so when I started this, I specifically said that once it's built, that I will hand it over to the band and they'll be ultimately responsible to place it where it's safe for him and the community and I'm still just waiting on them to come pick it up and move it. I have already spoken to the chief and he was really happy about it and he was interviewed about it and now he's just waiting for his administration to find a place for him that's suitable for him, where he likes to live alone.

We double-timed on the construction of this about a month ago when he showed up at the health centre with rodent bites on his stomach. A community member was there at the health centre and he was there to see a doctor and when they asked him what was wrong he said, 'there's rats attacking me at night.' And so I double-timed, and we finished this in two weeks after that was made known to me.

Will it help during the heat of the summer as well?

It's so insulated, it doesn't get really too hot inside so he can take refuge during the Summer months too. It's wired in such a way it's like a travel trailer. You can place it next to a structure and you can plug it in with an extension cord. It's built to be an emergency shelter and it's pretty much indestructible. All the walls are made out of plywood, everything is white, there's a small heater and a lightswitch in there and an extension cord that's permanently affixed to the building so it's basically pick up and go.

This shed was built from the acts of kindness from the community. This was the community's project. The only thing me and Nick and my kids did was use a hammer. But this was all paid for by the community and this is their project

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