Got a heart?

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Visiting Val-d’Or recently, I finally had a chance to visit one of my old haunts… the infamous Chateau Louis bar. It no longer serves alcoholic beverages, however. Now it instead helps those who would frequent the establishment for its historical services. But the times they are changing and for the better.

What was once an infamous establishment now helps those with the alcohol problems that the Louis once catered to. Renamed Willie’s Place after Willie Hester, a homeless Cree who died in 2013, it’s a drop-in centre for Val-d’Or’s homeless and almost homeless.

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived there but I wasn’t disappointed knowing what my old friend Edith Cloutier would do. I’ve seen her in her role as executive director of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre and how she has built that up into an impressive organization that goes beyond other centres in delivering what people need.

Cloutier has given people hope, services and the resources to let them have a chance at a better future. It’s something we all want but some have a harder time achieving those goals. Edith’s heart and drive always tries to find a way to make it happen.

Willie’s Place is just the latest of her projects to help others in need. Visiting the centre with Edith was an experience I needed, and one that a lot of us need. The drop-in centre sees about 70 or more needy people using its facilities every day. Everyone in the centre was friendly and introduced themselves and where they were from without even being told who I was. You could tell they did this as a matter of fact. They would talk to Edith about what was happening in their lives and thank her for Willie’s Place. A few folks were getting some needed sleep in warm place.

Edith told me she wasn’t the only one with a big heart. The woman who owns the former Chateau Louis is only charging $500 a month for rent. Though many others volunteer their time, including users, costs are much higher at around $10,000 a month.

But Willie’s Place is at risk. There is no funding in place to keep operating past March 31 and that is a damn shame. Police say they are issuing fewer tickets for public intoxication. This might be because people have a place to go that gives them hope. A place where they can start to turn their lives around for the better.

In Eeyou Istchee Cree people are generous and raise money to ensure community members who need help get it. At Christmas in Mistissini there is the Wreath of Hope that makes sure every family has enough to eat and there are presents under the tree. The money raised is used throughout the year to ensure basic needs are met.

But when community members are outside the community it seems out of sight, out of mind and not worth a thin dime. We have to go beyond our community and help our people who have lost their way. Let’s help them find a brighter future than the streets and find their way back. If you can help as an individual, a band council, an organization or a business, give the Val-d’Or Friendship Centre a call (819-825-6857). Tell them that you are following your heart, you care and here’s some money to help your brothers and sisters.

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