Spring is a busy time of year for Ron Eldridge.
The St. Vital-based director of Devoted To You Street Ministries is in the middle of his organization’s annual backpack drive — collecting hygiene products which will then be distributed to the city’s homeless population.
But spring also brings flooding, posing a risk to those who are homeless and seek shelter under the city’s many bridges.
In the next few weeks, Eldridge said he’ll spend time at the Osborne Bridge, helping the many people who sleep there find a new place to live while river levels rise.
"I like to get them moved somewhere else, where it’s safer," he said. "If that water gets too high, it’s dangerous."
Part of the reason Eldridge is so passionate about this work is because he spent 13 years living on the streets, after he left an abusive home in 1974.
"One (difference) between me and a lot of missions is they have not had the homeless experience," he said, adding it gives him an advantage when working with homeless people.
"I know more about what they need, how to talk to them."
Even with his experience, Eldridge said he found it difficult to help people relocate during the flooding season last year.
"A lot of them don’t want to leave where they are, but I finally convinced them to leave at least until the water crests and goes down again."
Marion Willis, a member of the Old St. Boniface Residents’ Association who works with the area’s homeless population, agrees spring can be a hard time for homeless people affected by flooding.
"It does displace quite a few people," she said. "I think the homeless community becomes much more visible during this time, because everyone’s looking for a new place."
Perhaps because of that increased visibility, Eldridge said he’s hoping the backpack drive run by his faith-based organization will be a huge success this year.
Devoted To You has even partnered with a local St. Boniface business, Blind Shiners, whose owner Gord Buczko has offered space to store the backpacks.
Buczko said he and his staff will also be reaching out to other businesses for donations.
"I’m very blessed and fortunate in all I have," he said. "For me, it’s just a way to give back."
Eldridge’s wife, Marsha, added a backpack filled with hygiene products can make a huge difference to someone who is homeless.
"They live out of a backpack. It’s like their lifeline," she said.
Devoted To You is accepting donations of backpacks and a variety of products, including:
• toothpaste and toothbrushes
• men and women’s razors
• shaving cream
• combs and brushes
• hand towels and facecloths
• granola bars
• bottled water
Donations can be dropped off at Blind Shiners at 835 Marion St. (call 231-3880 for more information), or at Bethel Community Church at 430 Lakewood Blvd.