Cambridge man taking ’90 Days & Nights in the Cold’ campaign across Ontario

Paul Tavares will be living in a tent for 90 days to raise awareness about homelessness.
Paul Tavares will be living in a tent for 90 days to raise awareness about homelessness. Global News

Two years ago, Paul Tavares spent 90 days outdoors in winter and spring on a patch of grass in the middle of Cambridge.

In addition to opening some people’s eyes toward the plight of homeless people, he also raised over $12,000 for local charities.

Tavares is bringing back his “90 Days & Nights in the Cold” campaign this winter, only this time, he is taking it on the road.

He plans to take his trip across the province, spending a week outdoors in 13 cities across the province, beginning in Thunder Bay in January.

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Tavares has twice been forced to live on the street. The first was for a brief stint in 1997 but he spent a longer time living on the streets of Cambridge in 2012.

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“I didn’t share with my friends and family my situation,” he explained. “Which is kind of difficult — Cambridge is not that a big of a place.”

Tavares said he tried to appear as though he was living a normal life even as he was sleeping in a shelter or a park, or even for a couple of months, in a storage unit.

“I needed more time to figure things out on my own. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to appear not to be homeless,” he says. “For me, there was embarrassment about my situation at the time.”

Tavares said he would go to the local YMCA to work out and shave, work the odd job and even coached a local high school wrestling team.

He believes few realized his situation.

The Cambridge native would eventually get back on his feet with the aid of the “good support system” in the city.

A few years later, he would read an article in a local paper about the overcrowding at The Bridges shelter and it made him wonder.

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“I was kind of scratching my head and trying to figure out if there’s anything I can do myself,” he said. “It was partly my trying to give back to society that I could do what little I could do.”

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He said he worked out an agreement with the local Shoppers Drug Mart, notified Waterloo Regional Police and the local shelters and got underway with little fanfare.

“Within the first five or six days, the media showed up because people were calling city hall and asking, why is the city allowing a homeless person to camp out there?” he said.

“And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted the community itself to start to question why I was there in a very visible high-traffic area.”

He would go on to receive heavy donations of food and clothing, as well as the money, so after some consultation with friends and Facebook followers, he decided it was time to take the show on the road.

Tavares says he got the idea when he spoke to Global News’ Mark Carcasole as his initial campaign was coming to an end in May 2017.

“Who knows? Maybe 13 cities? Ninety days is 13 weeks so hence the 13-city tour,” he recalled saying.

He is going to be better prepared this time around.

Tavares has talked with more experienced campers about his situation and they have made suggestions on his sleeping arrangements.

“I put many layers between myself and the ground, however after speaking to a more knowledgeable extreme weather camper a couple of weeks, it was explained to me that more important than the layers between you and the ground is the layers on top of you,” he said.

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While he will try to stay warmer with layers, he will forgo the comfort of a propane heater once again.

Tavares is also trying to build awareness in advance by connecting with the press as he “didn’t inform the media in advance” last time.

He hopes that the increased attention will also allow him to raise more funds for local community groups.

“I don’t think it’s inconceivable for me to put $25,000 as my goal for Cambridge even if I am just spending one week in Cambridge,” Tavares said, while also stating his goal is to raise another $25,000 in the other 12 cities on his tour.

In 2017, he said he collected at least 500 bags of clothing as well as a large amount of food, but this time he will not be able to help in that manner because he will only be in each city for a week and it would also not allow him to accomplish some of his other goals.

“I’ll direct people to the agencies that accept the food and the clothing,” he said.

Instead, he hopes to speak with people who are working with homelessness in each city, as well as those who may have been or who are living on the streets to try to document his journey.

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In total, he will travel 3,700 kilometres as he travels to the 13 cities across Ontario, beginning in Thunder Bay on Jan. 6 and ending in Cambridge on April 6.

In between, the 90 Days & Nights in the Cold tour will also visit Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Ottawa, Cornwall, Kingston, Belleville, Peterborough, Toronto, Guelph and Kitchener.


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