By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
For the past three years, while everyone else sleeps, Melissa Schneider is out in the wee hours of the night driving around in her van.
From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., she drives around downtown Oshawa visiting with the homeless and helping them in their greatest time of need.
Many of them call her “Mom.”
“They scream and they’re like, ‘Mom!’” she says. “They know me, they know our faces. That’s why it’s really important that I’m present. The people — they know, they trust.”
Schneider talks to them, gets to know their name and their story, offers them a meal and a hot drink, and perhaps a blanket, jacket or a pair of mittens. And then she’s off to visit her next friend.
“Our max we served one night was 121 different people living rough with nowhere else to go,” she says. Most nights, it can be anywhere from 40 to 60 people.
Now, Schneider and her small team of volunteers have a new location as of Friday for her vulnerable friends. It’s a place where they can come in, sit down and grab a meal and a hot drink while they rest up a bit and warm up.
Located at 454 Simcoe St. S, she says the doors will be open every day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Everyone who comes in will get 30 minutes to sit down, with numbers limited inside due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“They can come spend some time, sanitize, eat, and grab a coat,” she says.
Schneider says having a static location will allow for more time to get to know each group that comes in.
“It’s more about finding out what their needs are – not their wants,” she says. “We deal with a lot of want – ‘I want a jacket, I want a pair of mitts, I want some food’ – but I want to know what you need. All they need is help.”
She says the name, DUO (Do Unto Others) is fitting for what they’re doing.
“We’re not here to do handouts. We’ll give you what you need, but when you’re ready, DUO’s purpose is to be a hand up, so when you stumble and you reach up, a hand will be there to pull you up.”
Schneider and her partner Andrea Brum, who joined Schneider a few months ago, credit other local groups and organizations who continue to offer their support and resources, which helps to keep her initiative going.
One Way Ministries will be providing dinner at the location every Wednesday and Friday at 6:30 p.m. The groups’ motor home, which usually sits downtown every night serving hot drinks to the homeless, will now be parked outside the 454 Simcoe St. S. location so people waiting in line will be able to have a hot drink.
She adds Feed the Need also provides food for about 800 to 900 meals a week, and donations of food and clothing are constantly coming in from the community.
“Without the community, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing,” says Schneider.
Even though Schneider now has a warm location for the homeless, she says they’ll still be out driving around in her van every night for those who don’t want to come.
“We will still take our vehicle out to do late runs,” she says. “There are people with shopping carts, people who will not abandon their space, and that’s ok. We just check on them, bring blankets, bandaids, something hot… we just make sure they’re ok and that they’re safe.”
Schneider says donations of non-perishable food and warm winter clothing are always appreciated.
For more information, visit DUO’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/duo.