Both my husband Frank and I know that when we get outdoors for a hike in one of the many conservation areas around the Greater Toronto Area, we recharge our batteries after a long week at the office. We also come away from our experience outdoors feeling balanced. So it’s no wonder that an organization such as Street to Trail has been so successful in helping the homeless as well.
I have to admire people like Paul Mackle – the man who founded Street to Trail, a non-profit organization that helps people living on the streets of Toronto find their sense of worth via natural settings and places. The organization, which Paul founded in 2000, allows homeless people to explore the natural world via hikes and canoe trips, building self-confidence and new supportive relationships. Natural settings such as parks and conservation areas are also peaceful spots – away from the noise and dreary, depressing concrete city – for helping to overcome addiction.
The organization has helped many find a new path in their life, and at times has played the role of matchmaker!
We recently interviewed Paul about Street to Trail:
Q: What inspired you to launch Street to Trail? Was there one ‘Aha’ moment that brought your idea to the forefront?
Paul: Street to Trail was founded in 2000 by myself. I was volunteering in Toronto area shelters and drop-ins. I noticed that people were depressed and needed motivation. I was thinking what in my life that kept me motivated and what kept me from being depressed. The answer was being outdoors.
Q: Why do you think Street to Trail has been so successful? What are the key lessons learned through the program that help the homeless get their life on a better track?
Paul: The success comes from our life changing formula : Core changing skills = Challenge + Choice + Chance. The key lessons come these three Cs.
- Challenge and activity: Day Hikes, Canoe Trips, New Year’s Overnight Trip, Winter Camp, Land Stewardship and Equipment Repair Workshop, Volunteer Workshops
- Choice means that they are invited and encouraged. People choose to join.
- And finally chance. The hikes are every second and fourth Saturday; this keeps the possibility and opportunity alive. It gives them a chance.
Q: Please share your favourite success story.
Paul: I met Richard at a drop-in centre in 2003 to 2004. Finally in 2005 he came on his first hike. Sometimes it can take a few years for people to gain the confidence and trust in me to do this. Eventually Richard moved on to New Year’s Trips and Canoe Trips then finally on to Land stewardship. After many years of this, in the late spring of 2009, I found Richard an employer and they met. My wife, Diana Mackle has met up with Richard since and he is still working, doing great.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced over the past few years?
Paul: We try to fix our own equipment and keep all of our gear together. We don’t have a space to do this in, most of the time or if we do it’s very small. Our dream is to get a better place to work in where we could have an office, a small kitchen, parking space and even room for staff.
Q: How can people and organizations help?
Paul: Edelman’s The Little Give was helpful with its connections to larger agencies. That helped with getting donations of money and even a canoe. The nicest one we had was stolen out of my backyard. Since that happened, we are really looking for a donated space— somewhere to store all of our stuff and even for an office. Also, any gently used gear (canoes, winter clothing, hiking equipment) that we can give to our clients would be great too. Lastly, we’re always looking for volunteers. The more the merrier is better for our hikes!
Q: What is your vision for Street to Trail in the future?
Paul: In the future we’d like to get more employees at Street to Trail because that will let us help more people get off the street by going on trips.
If you can help Street to Trail, or are looking for ways to help, visit the website: www.street-to-trail.com
Check out this news coverage including Paul Mackle talking about the program: