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Former homeless man gives $10,000 to Thunder Bay shelter that helped him

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An Ontario man who was homeless for years has donated $10,000 to a shelter that supported him after receiving compensation from a residential school settlement.

The act of kindness has triggered a slew of donations for Shelter House in Thunder Bay, Ont., which had to close an outreach program on April 1 after it ran out of funds for the operation.

That program, known as Street Outreach Services, or SOS, involved two staffers driving around and checking on the city's homeless, intoxicated and others at risk on the streets, and taking them to hospitals, detox facilities and shelters, said Alexandra Calderon, a development officer at Shelter House.

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A van used to run the program was operated 12 hours a day from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. and helped alleviate the strain on the city's emergency services, she said.

A few weeks ago, a First Nations man who had used the shelter and the outreach program extensively walked into Calderon's office and said he wanted to give back, she recalled.

"My first reaction was 'I'm sure you need this money more and you should take it and keep it for yourself,"' Calderon said. "He said, 'No, no, I want to make sure my friends are safe and the SOS is out there so that if they need help, or a ride, they can get one."'

Both Calderon and the man, who wishes to remain anonymous, then broke into tears.

"He was so proud to do it," Calderon said. "It's such a moving donation because it comes from somebody who has nothing."

Calderon said the man, who now has his own apartment, was at the shelter in early April during a news conference where David Paul Achneepineskum, the CEO of Matawa First Nation, pledged $10,000 per year for the next five years to the organization on behalf of the First Nation.

At that time, Achneepineskum called on others to step up.

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Inspired by that call, the man made his donation after he received compensation from a class action suit against the federal government involving Canada's notorious residential school system.

Calderon said the shelter is a "low-barrier" facility, meaning it will accept those who are under the influence, which isn't the case in many shelters throughout the country.

"Just because somebody is intoxicated, doesn't mean they deserve to be incarcerated," she said.

"We'll pick them up and bring them to where they need to go, whether it's to a friend's house or whether it's back to the shelter or to the hospital. But we need money to get the program going to be able to do that."

The shelter has raised $75,000, but needs $125,000 in order to get the outreach program running again.

"This comes at a particularly good time for Thunder Bay," Calderon said of the man's donation. "He wants to make sure, as do we, that no one else is going to be out on the riverbanks alone."

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In the past month, two First Nation teenagers were pulled from local waterways, prompting area chiefs to call for the RCMP to investigate. The chiefs slammed the Thunder Bay Police for what they called an ongoing indifference of indigenous people.

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