Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Hope In The Dark - Centre of Hope and Homelessness Awareness
I wrote recently about the relaunch and revisioning of the Centre of Hope, a place in this community that has become very dear to me. The Centre provides a daytime drop-in program for our local homeless and at-risk-of-homelessness population, and I have spent time with the staff and the patrons there. I can't quite explain what they have done to my heart or why, but I can say it has been powerful. I can say they have captured a piece of my heart forever. And I can say I would do almost anything for them, which is probably why I have agreed to sleep outdoors on May 26th. I hope I won't be there alone, though - I hope many, many people in this city will join me as we raise awareness and funds at the inaugural Centre of Hope "Hope in the Dark" event at the Clearwater Public Education Centre.
I won't deny it. I lead a pretty privileged existence in this community. Fort Mac has been very, very good to me, and I've never had to worry about being homeless here. Years ago, though, when I was in my twenties and living in Toronto I was pretty much on the hardscrabble edge. I worked in a business in Cabbagetown, and I got to know the local homeless population there pretty quickly. I would buy them food or coffee when I could afford to, and at times I would have to gently wake them in order to open the door of the business. I think what startled me then, though, was the realization that the divide between them and I wasn't all that great. Were it not for parents who sent me money on a regular basis I think I would have qualified as "homeless at risk", too, barely able to afford to live in the city I loved. I think there were times I looked at them and didn't see them but me. And the day I discovered the homeless man who claimed to have been a well-known professor actually had been (and I admit it, I doubted his claim) I think my heart changed. I think that was the true moment I realized that we all have a story and a reason we end up where we find ourselves. And this past year when some of the kind folks at Centre of Hope shared their stories with me I was reminded of those lean years, and reminded how little separates all of us, regardless of our stories.
I suppose that is why "Hope in the Dark" appeals to me. On May 26th, from 6 pm - 6 am, I will sleep outdoors in a sleeping bag. I will participate in a scavenger hunt and shelter building activities and whatever other things COH has planned for the participants. And I will experience, for one very brief night, what it is like to be homeless.
The event is also meant to be a fundraiser, and I will be seeking pledges. The deal is that for a certain amount raised you can change the level of "sleeping rough". If you raise $50-75 you get to sleep in a box. $100-150 gets you into a tent. Raise over $150 and you get to sleep in your car. However, I am making a commitment to you, and myself. Regardless of dollars I raise, and regardless of weather, I will sleep outdoors. Rain. Hail. Or starry moonlit sky. Because I think I owe my friends at the Centre of Hope something. I owe them the chance to experience myself what they experience every night.
One of the hardest things I heard from a homeless person was how they lived all winter in a tent on the Snye, even when it was -35. And they didn't do this for one year, but for years. That shook me to the core, the realization that while I was tightly bundled in my comfy bed under my warm duvet in my heated home someone was out there freezing in a tent. And that meant someone else was likely sleeping rough in that same weather, but in a car. Or a box. Or just a sleeping bag under frosty skies. And that is why on May 26 I will not sleep in a box or a tent or a car. I will sleep in a sleeping bag and face whatever comes my way, just as hundreds of others in this community have done. Of course in the morning I get to pack up and head home - because I have one to go to. They don't have that luxury, and it breaks my heart.
I am genuinely hoping dozens of other people choose to come and experience this with me. Not because I am afraid to be alone in the dark (okay, just a little) but because I think this is the kind of experience that can open your mind and change your heart. I think it is the kind of night where things can become crystal clear, and where one can become aware of your responsibility to the others who share our city, and our world. I think it can be the kind of night that changes you forever, much like the moment when I learned a homeless man I dismissed as a "street person" had been a respected professor who lost everything - his family, his job, and his home. I think it can be the kind of moment when you realize how very little separates us, and how all our stories are, in the end, so similar.
So, here's the deal, people. I am putting a link to the event registration at the bottom of this post, and I encourage you to register and join me. It's a nominal $25 fee to register, but I hope you will take the challenge and do some fundraising, too. And, if you can't join me, I will ask that you consider pledging a donation. You can reach me at McMurray Musings, and every dollar amount counts. But know this - regardless of how much you pledge and how much you donate to this cause so close to my heart I will not sleep in a box or a tent or a car. I will sleep on the pavement, whatever the weather brings, and I will do so with the knowledge that if my homeless friends can do it every single night then I can do it for one night in May. I will do so knowing there is hope in the dark. I will do so knowing that there is, quite simply, hope, and that it can be found in each of us, and in a humble little blue building on Franklin called the Centre of Hope.