We are starting to prepare our list for an event we attend every year, one that does not require fancy shoes and glittering gowns but tarps and sleeping bags and duct tape.Once again we are headed to a park downtown to sleep outside as part of the Centre of Hope’s homelessness awareness event “Hope in the Dark.”
I have been part of this event since the inaugural year, one night annually in which I freely give up my bed and sleep instead on a bench or on the ground. The Intrepid Junior Blogger has joined me for the last two years, sleeping outside in a park in an adventure designed to help us understand the nature of being homeless. Exposed to the elements, we have discovered the value of things like two tarps and duct tape and fuzzy mittens or even socks to keep your hands warm.Hope in the Dark is an opportunity to understand something that most of us will likely never experience. There are many beliefs about homelessness and those who are homeless, and many ideas about how to solve it. I know that for the last three years these beliefs and ideas have danced through my head at 3 am as I lay in a sleeping bag in a park. For the past two years I have done it with my child beside me in a cardboard box, and felt something tugging in my heart as I realized that there are many homeless youth in our country who are the same age as she is and much the same as her in many ways.
It is the night every year when there is a moment, after all the others have gone to sleep and the noises from the box beside me have quieted, that I find myself feeling more alone than I have ever felt in my adult life. It is a moment of total solitude and quiet, just before the birds begin to sing, far too early for my liking, and the first rays of sun begin to shine. It is a moment I have come to both dread and treasure as it brings me close to the core of who I am.It is tough to explain this moment, and I can see why people would want to avoid it as it is troubling to experience yourself with honesty and clarity, but every year I find myself learning more about myself – in the middle of a park, in the dark of night, far from my warm bed and my complacency about the world as I want to believe it to be.
Homelessness is one of those topics uncomfortable to discuss. It taps into our deepest fears and often our strongest opinions as we believe we know the answers as to why homelessness exists and the nature of those who are homeless. It is terrifying to realize that those who are homeless are not so different from ourselves, and that their road to homelessness is not so different from the roads we have travelled. We do not want to believe – not for an instant – that we could ever experience homelessness.This year once again the IJB and I will pack up and head down to the park. We have a rhythm now, a strategy to combat the cold and the dark and the rain. We know how to handle the logistics of this temporary homelessness, but we still struggle with the emotions and the sensation of being alone in the dark. In the morning we cling to each other, as while she pretends she has not felt it I know she has her own moment in the dark when the truth sneaks into her box, too.
You see the truth is homelessness is not the sole territory of any one group. It can – and does – affect those from a variety of walks of life and does so through different paths: mental illness, physical injury, domestic violence, substance abuse and more. We all have the potential to be homeless, and that realization is one of those fundamental truths that once you know you cannot unknow. It is that moment in the dark when you find this truth that you realize two things: that you are not immune from this experience, and the importance of hope should it ever happen to you.The Centre of Hope, that humble once-blue building on Franklin Avenue, is a beacon of hope for those who are experiencing homelessness. It is a place that reminds them of their value and of the hope to which they can still aspire. But it does more than that, too. It serves as a beacon of hope for all of us, a sign that hope does exist, even in the dark.
This year I will not ask you join us at Hope in the Dark. I am instead challenging you to do it. I am challenging you to have your own moment in the dark and to find the truths that lurk inside us but that we like to silence because they are far too uncomfortable to face. I am offering you the opportunity to seek that truth and to find the hope it brings with it.We will have mittens and duct tape and two tarps. We will be the mother and daughter who have the logistics of sleeping in a park down to a science, but who still experience that moment and wake to the world filled not only with new truth but with renewed hope.
Join us on May 30. I challenge you. Join us to find Hope in the Dark.