It started from a place of fear, but ended up in a place of sympathy.

Staff at a business in downtown Sudbury says empathy training, aimed at helping them understand the problems of the city's homeless, has resulted in a remarkable change.

Josee Garneau and Christina Lamoureux work at Gougeon Insurance Brokers in downtown Sudbury, and they regularly see the challenges of the homeless and those suffering from mental illness and addiction.

They often go outside to offer assistance, but that wasn't always the case.

"I think that before the training, we were almost at a point where we were going to give up, we didn't know what to do." said Lamoureux.

Recently, they found a man lying in the back parking lot of their workplace. He was barely conscious, right by a door and so they checked to make sure he was breathing.

“I just kept reminding him, the ambulance is coming, just stay with him, until they did show up.” said Garneau.

In the spring, Lamoureux and fellow employees at Gougeon Insurance Brokers were given empathy training by Sudbury police and the Sudbury Youth

"Just to understand the differences between homelessness, addicted personalities, and actual violent crimes. So, it was just a way to make people more comfortable coming into work every day.” said Shawna Kirkwood, Vice President of Operations for Gougeon Insurance Brokers.

The VP says she asked for the training because her employees were afraid of people living on the street.

"It really was a transformation of attitudes." said Lamoureux.

"After our discussion and our training, we did see it as they're not going to lash out, these people are not going to lash out at us, they just need help." said Josee Garneau, an account executive for the insurance brokerage.

"Now, they're actually going out there saying ‘what do you need? Can we call you an ambulance?’" said Kirkwood.

The company also made changes to the property to discourage drug use and make staff feel safer. A security camera facing the back parking lot was installed, signage was added, and made it harder for users to hide out back.

"I used to pick up, I'd say 10 to 12 needles a week, and now we're averaging maybe once a week." said Garneau.

The training and changes have all contributed to a new mindset.

"I don't see that we should treat them any differently. When any circumstances in our life could have been different and we could have ended up on the street." said Garneau.

The company says the training sparked interest among employees to get more involved with the community.

In response, Kirkwood now offers staff the opportunity to volunteer with social welfare groups during the work day.