Timmins' Mario Dussault has several certificates of recognition but he’s most proud of his social worker diploma received this year from Collège Boréal.
“I never thought in my life I would be a social worker,” he says. “I worked very much for it.”
As a man who has spent his life with social workers, Dussault is now the one helping others.
Born in Montreal, Dussault, 53, ended up in Vancouver in his teens and spent six months being homeless.
“It’s hard. When you have no money to shave your face, you have money for nothing,” he recalls. “It’s not easy … I had a hard time in Vancouver because I couldn’t speak English. I slept at the park, police would wake me up with the feet, I understood nothing.”
Then, a man with a "big heart" helped Dussault by buying him a bus ticket back to Montreal.
“I promised one day when I have a chance, I’ll make this for the homeless because I’ve lived this before,” he says. “I love the street people, it’s my life.”
Dussault moved to Timmins 16 years ago in pursuit of a better life and founded Yo Mobile 10 years ago. The name is derived from his nickname, Yo.
Being bilingual in Timmins is helpful and it also helps to connect with more people, he notes.
Every Friday and Saturday from October to April, he parks a bus at city hall and serves hot meals to homeless people. From 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., people can stop in for sandwiches, soup, coffee and hot chocolate. Saturday is a pizza day.
Over the month of October, he has served 1,500 people.
“I’ve never had this. In the first year I started this I had 1,000 people. Now, I have 1,500 for four weekends, it’s crazy,” he says.
A donation from the Timmins Chamber of Commerce last winter allowed him to put a heater and shelves in the garage where the organization stores donations. Now, people can stop by to try on winter jackets, mittens and boots in the garage every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. Last week, he helped about 20 people.
Before the pandemic, 16 people could be accommodated inside the bus. Because of safety restrictions, only four people are now allowed on board. Plexiglass barriers have also been installed inside.
Drug-related issues have gotten worse in Timmins in the past few years, he says.
“It’s hard for the city, it’s hard for police, it’s hard for everybody,” Dussault says.
For the past 10 years, the community has been helping the organization with donations but there haven’t been many contributions lately, he says.
“When people broke the windows in town, you’d think people would give me something for Yo Mobile after this,” he says explaining that not all people are the same. “It’s not all the people who made this, just a small group and everybody pays for this. Before I had lots of donations, not now.”
Donations of winter jackets, big-sized boots and food are always welcome.
“You give me what you like,” Dussault says.
There are also eight people staying at his house. Certain rules are in place like no alcohol or drugs are allowed. There is a hot tub, a propane fire pit and an area for residents to smoke outdoors. Inside, the house is clean and spacious.
“Sometimes, you just need a little push. I don’t just give, give, give,” Dussault says. “You don’t go to my house to stay and make nothing. You need to have a plan. I’m OK to help you but you need to work on yourself.”
Dussault says he believes it takes time for a person to get back on their feet, giving an example of how one man went back to school to be a social worker and another opened a business in South Porcupine. His idea behind housing other people is to be like a “big family,” he says.
“You need help, I’ll help you. You don’t need it, I won’t help you. I have no time to play,” he says.
Dussault also recently bought Bubble’s Fries and opened the Yo Dog hotdog stand near Canadian Tire.
For next winter, Dussault says he will have a new bus equipped with a TV and a washroom. Having a bus 45 feet long, provided by Tisdale Bus Lines, will ensure everyone can be served simultaneously and people don’t have to wait outside, he says.
Over the years, Dussault has been recognized by the YMCA of Timmins for his contributions as a peacemaker and was inducted into the Timmins Human Rights Wall of Fame for being a leader on human rights and anti-racism issues.
“The people give me more than I give them. It’s nice when you help somebody and they get back on their feet,” he says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com