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519Pursuit: Spreading Homelessness Awareness


Through a friendship-based approach, 519Pursuit works to bridge the gap in the community by spreading homelessness awareness, building mutual trust, identifying gaps in service utilization, and alleviating the challenges associated with extreme poverty. 519 Pursuit members hold a vision of an inclusive community where those experiencing homelessness can hit the restart button in order to re-energize, overcome their unique challenges and re-integrate into mainstream society.

The organization runs Socktober, an annual campaign to collect socks and raise awareness. Other than socks, well-wishers can also backpacks, duffle bags, carry on suitcases, soap, lip balm, hand cream, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, combs, writing utensils, water, snacks, shoes, brand new or gently used clothing and many more.

Tell us about how 519Pursuit started and where the name comes from.

519 Pursuit is a local grassroots non-profit organization in London, ON. In the winter of 2017 co-founder Allison DeBlaire made a crock-pot of chicken noodle soup which she decided to take to the streets to share with those who were unable to access the shelter services through the night. When Allison offered the first bowl of soup to a male, he made a statement to others that there was real chicken in the soup and people came quick for their own bowl. At this point Allison had decided that she needed to “do better”. Allison returned home to her roommate and long-time best friend and, Amber Irvine, who then had a conversation on how they could “do better” for those facing poverty in the city. The two turned their basement into a clothing donation centre which ignited the 519Pursuit care package program/outreach team.

What are the biggest issues you feel are in this community that are impacting why people are homeless?
  • Housing stability – rent-geared-to-income units – on site housing supports
  • Social service support – consistency
  • Shelters at capacity – loss of hope/trust/safety
  • Consistency – communication – wrap around service – transitional supports
  • Government funding – ODSP/Ontario Works not enough to live
  • The city not admitting to the crisis
Are there things this community could improve on to reduce homelessness?

Our community can work through education and understanding of how to better support those facing poverty or the services/shelters tirelessly supporting our friends. Homelessness is very complex and could have a different definition for each person in our community facing poverty. Services operate on little funding and could always be strengthened by volunteers. The community could begin by focusing on the little aspects of daily change rather than looking homelessness in the face and thinking “I’ll never be able to make a difference”. By offering a hand of help at a local service, running a fundraiser or clothing drive, opening warming spaces/inclusive community hubs, getting involved in conversations or simply being a better friend to those in need.

How does mental health and homelessness overlap?

Homelessness and mental health overlap one another in several ways. People who are facing homelessness have a higher propensity of schizophrenia, depression and personality disorders while suffering from a high incidence of compounded exacerbated trauma. Those without homes are most likely to be a victim of abuse with a higher rate of tri-morbidity (suffering from a mental illness, physical illness and substance misuse). Safe, stable and secure accommodation is vital to those facing mental illness allowing focus to be on recovery and treatment.

What should people in our society know about homelessness that they might not realize?

Homelessness is very complex. You cannot look in the face of one person and assume you understand their position in our society. Everyone has a reason for why they are in the face of poverty and everyone has a different path that will lead them back home. There are many misunderstandings and stigmas attached to homelessness however social exclusion plays a huge role. Conversation and education is a great place to start when learning about the specific crisis in our community. As a city we struggle to provide enough beds at night, housing for those in need, wrap around services, open community spaces, washrooms, safety and consistent supports. In the lives of someone facing homelessness today’s tribulations could be brand new tomorrow.

mindyourmind is taking the “519Pledge” to raise socks for the long has this fundraiser has been going on and what are your goals for it?

The 519Pledge is designed to change the conversation, perspective and stigma surrounding the lives of our friends. Through conversation and understanding each donated pair of socks inspires the willingness to look past what is thought to be a person’s story and digs deeper on an empathetic path to understand one another within the community. 

By taking the 519Pledge individuals, businesses, organizations, sports teams and whomever else feels inspired to participate vow to raise a total of 519 pairs of socks to be donated to 519Pursuit. The 519Pledge launches October first and runs for six weeks. Over the course of six weeks members of the community are encouraged to bring homelessness into conversations with the education of what it could truly mean for someone. Our overall goal is to surpass a donation of 19,988 pairs of socks in six weeks (October 1 to November 15, 2019) creating a growing tangible goal each year. Ultimately our goal as an organization is to see a growth throughout the years to a point where we actively have 519 pledges in the six week period.

What are some strategies people can do to get more socks donated to their pledge? Any tips?
  • Social media campaigns
  • Conversations
  • Fun group challenges: encourage friends/family/network to get involved
  • Be creative and fearless in your attempt to change the stigma around homelessness (educate oneself better on why socks are important – use this as a gateway to a conversation on how others understand homelessness and work to change perspectives)
  • Hosting a party, event or group activity: ask those attending to bring a donation of socks to leave at the door.
What is the future for 519Pursuit?

Since the founding of 519Pursuit and the clothing recycling program (donation centre) in 2017, 519Pursuit has graduated to a storage locker that is the new home and hopeful location of a working space that volunteers can come to be hands on in the making of care packages for friends OR friends can come individually and choose their own items to create their own personal care package. 519Pursuit is operated with little to no funding and is currently supporting a monthly bill of a storage locker. As the organization continuously works towards growth, the focus is on the ever-changing needs of friends facing poverty and their day to day lifestyles. It is the hope of the founders as they work to the achievement of a charity status to one day open a collective inclusive space where friends of 519Pursuit can escape to and work on bettering themselves daily. There is importance on the creation of a mentorship program and one on one support while also hearing what specific needs are to be met by those directly facing homelessness in our city. It is with hopes in the coming years that 519Pursuit seeks financial support from sponsors in the community who believe in the success of a friendship based approach and open more opportunities to be with friends day to day utilizing local services and supports to personalize their path home.

We took the 519Pledge here at mindyourmind and had 700 pairs of socks donated!

Photos courtesy of 519 Pursuit