On November 4, 2017 Paul Blais was in a car accident in Florida that changed his life forever. Lacking extended insurance coverage, Blais’ stint in an American hospital devastated his finances and when he returned to Cranbrook on December 16, he ended up living on the streets. As soon as he got back on his feet, he started doing everything he could to help the homeless of Cranbrook and now provides daily free breakfasts.
“So I ended up on the streets from December 22 to January 22 and then I found an apartment and I started building my life back,” Blais said in a visit to the Townsman.
“But in February was when I started doing the breakfasts, I did one a month. Now I’m at the point where I’m doing one every day. From my experience I wanted to make sure that I did something that was 365 days a year. So food, every day and shelter. So I was able to accomplish these, shelter I accomplished not too long ago.”
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After living on the streets for a month and then finding an apartment, the next step for Blais was to start a street vendor business called That Pizza Guy.
“In the beginning I had no car, I moved to Marysville and I live in Marysville now,” Blais said. “So I moved there and I didn’t have a car so I was hitchhiking. And to get my material to the sites I would use a taxi, or some people that would have a vehicle.”
Blais also credits Tammy Pocha of Operation Street Angels for helping him as soon as he got out of the hospital — she let him set up his operation outside of Street Angels and gave him tables, chairs and electricity.
“I got help right from the hospital, that’s where it all started. Got help from a lot of people and it was quite a good experience and it’s good to be able to give back to the community.”
“When he first came to Streets, it was basically he came in, like he was a lost guy,” said Pocha. “Then he talked about different organizations that he wanted to try and help in town because he wants to give back. So we talked for a long time. And he didn’t have supplies for any of the Pizza Guy, so when he started that he did outside of Street Angels to feed some of the kids that were at the skatepark.”
After starting up That Pizza Guy, Blais quickly started doing the monthly breakfasts, and as it picked up steam and people began to know who he was and what his story is, they quickly began to support the venture, and before long he was able to provide breakfasts every day.
Blais says he now has around 40 sponsors — local businesses and individuals who pay around $10 a week. That Pizza Guy was the first sponsor.
“So I’m supporting myself,” he said, “That Pizza Guy is a sponsor and I’m a volunteer and that’s how we’re making the whole thing work. And to sponsor is only $10 a week for however many weeks you can, everybody can afford $10, from the street people all the way to the rich people, to the businesses. And that’s how I was able to get it off the ground.”
Blais said that he wouldn’t have been able to do this project without the support of the community and he thinks that it’s “phenomenal,” especially to have done it so quickly.
“The reason I’m successful is because of the response from the community, individuals and businesses,” he said. “If I can do it, other people can do it, I mean we did it without any grants, any money from the government, that’s phenomenal. All community donation.”
Blais had never been one for social media, but in September he decided to register on Facebook. By November he had 11 friends and today, he has over 5000.
“I now have over 5000 and I can’t have any more, I’ve probably got another 2000 waiting,” Blais said. “Because if you get to that point they don’t allow you to have any more. If you’ve got 5000 friends you’re ready for a business, they want you to go into the business side of things, but I’m not going to put any money into it.”
Blais recently added the shelter component to his endeavour. He accomplishes this by asking the public if anyone has a spare room in their homes they can offer.
“Now, I had to put a certain system in place to protect them, because there’s a lot of issues that have to be dealt with,” Blais explained. “And I’m working in conjunction with paramedics and so together, the first time they call me for shelter, the shelter will be in like a motel or in a secure place and then we do an evaluation.”
For the first visit, Blais will get a motel with two beds, stay in the room with the individual to evaluate them and if everything turns out okay and they still need shelter, they go on to a private one.
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“If I have doubts about them, then I take them personally, so they’ll always have a place to go. I take the risk. And that’s how I was able to make it happen. Now we have all kinds of shelters 365 days a year, and there’s only a total of about 15 people out there that right now are using the shelter.”
Moving forward, Blais says that he hopes to one day find someone who can take over what he has started, as he doesn’t mean to do this forever.
“I’m in the process of talking to some people about turning it into a non-profit charity. And I’m trying to find people, an organization or anybody that will take it over from this point, because I want to go on to other things.
“I just wanted to accomplish this and make sure it’s in place and then hopefully people will carry it, and I think the community will carry it, I will find somebody. Because it’s that type of community. I’ve never seen such a strong community, but then again I’ve never pursued anything like this in any community. But to have the response of everybody, it’s like everybody is saying they wish they could do it or they wish they had done it, but they’re glad that I’m there and they’re gonna help me.”