Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hope in the Dark 2015 - Final Thoughts

5:50 am

I am huddled deep inside my sleeping bag. My throat feels raw, likely from the cold night air combined with the forest fire smoke that has been hanging above us all night. I've been awake (but not up) for awhile, woken by the sounds of voices and just wanting them to shut up so I can sleep some more. There is no noise coming from the box beside me, as the IJB is fast asleep. And then I hear Barb's voice and I know it is time to go.

Hope in the Dark is over for another year.

I fling back the top of my sleeping bag and realize the field around us is deserted and we are, it seems, the last ones still asleep. I shake the box and a muffled angry voice tells me to go away. I tell the voice that I will pack up my things and return for her, allowing her a few more moments of sleep as 5:50 in the morning is not a time teenagers like to be awake, unless they are still up from the night before.

I pack up, trudge up the hill to the car and then come back for her, the last person standing (or sleeping as it is) at Hope in the Dark 2015. She reluctantly slithers out of her warm den and puts on her boots, We break down her box and pack up the car, and then we head home.

Home. A word that is loaded with meaning and emotion, a word that for four years now has come to mean even more after a night sleeping in a park.

11:00 am

I've managed a small nap and I'm at a store picking up a few things. I tell the clerk I spent the night in a park and explain why, and they look at me and say: "Well, some of them choose to be homeless you know." I look at them and after four years of a night of cold and dark and learning I simply say: "No. They don't."

It is a nice lie we tell ourselves, you see. I don't believe a single person in this world grows up with the ambition to be homeless. I don't think anyone says: "Hey, I think I'll be homeless today." It happens to us through situation and circumstance, and on occasion perhaps those who are experiencing homelessness choose to stay there not because they don't want a home but because the experience has so changed them that they know it will be a fight to adapt to a different life in a home again. Some have tried to get off the streets and failed because they have become accustomed to a life on the streets and they know they will struggle to leave it because it is a life they know and understand.

And I know this because after four years of Hope in the Dark I realized that this year I was used to the experience, as was the IJB. We could have slept in that park all day, long after the others had left. We were okay - not happy perhaps, but we had adapted to a life in the rough. We understood the rhythm and the routine, and we were prepared.

It is convenient to tell ourselves that others choose to be homeless. You see of we can put that choice on them then it eliminates our responsibility and culpability. Suddenly we have no blame and no role to play because "they" have chosen it. It is a comforting lie, as so many lies are - but it is still a lie.

Every night in our community about 50 people sleep rough on our streets. Over the past ten years sixty of them have died. Don't you dare lie to yourself that they chose to live and die on our streets, because they didn't. While that lie makes it easier for us to sleep at night in our cozy homes it does nothing for them, and it does nothing to create the hope they need to survive - and eventually help them to turn hope into home.

To the Centre of Hope: thank you for taking me and my daughter on a journey of learning and understanding. I think it is vital for you to know that not only do you provide hope and change the lives of those experiencing homelessness you have changed our lives, too, and shown us the meaning of both hope and home. 

To my fellow Hope in the Dark participants: thank you for being there and giving up your bed for a night to learn and understand, and for fighting the lies we tell ourselves together.

And to my daughter, the IJB: thank you for being the last one standing at Hope in the Dark and for being the kind of person I am not only proud to have given birth to but honoured to know. You are the reason I think our world has every right to have hope - even in the dark.

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