As I go about my daily routine, I find that I often forget just how privileged my life really is. I have been blessed with an amazing family, friends and support network in my life. I have been lucky enough to have a successful career that provides my family with the financial security that many people may never experience. I sometimes forget that while we live in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, there is a depressing reality that many people face on a daily basis in Calgary... homelessness.
To many, the image of homelessness is Calgary is stereotyped with the image of an older adult male living on the streets, often challenged by addiction or mental health issues. While there are some great facilities in Calgary for single adults, most people never envision that there are actually hundreds of families that are homeless! What happens when a family finds itself with nowhere to live? Where do they turn?
For the past 17 years, the Inn From The Cold has provided shelter and support to families that find themselves with nowhere else to go. I have been a supporter of this wonderful organization for many years and was able to experience the amazing work that they do first hand today as part of their "Experience Homelessness" event and it has really opened my eyes to the challenges many Calgarians face.
The event started out with me receiving a fictional "Final Eviction Notice" from my landlord, confirming that since I have not paid my rent, the locks will be changed on my home and I will not be able to return. The landlord has recommended that I attend a meeting with the Inn From The Cold today to determine if they can help keep my family off the street.
( The experience will now take place with my visiting the facility and experiencing this in a first person perspective of what typically occurs on a daily basis.)
I arrived at my appointment with the few belongings that my family and I still have ( nicely packed into a garbage bag) and awaited my appointment with my intake worker. They explained this process takes one to two hours and this will help in assessing my family's needs and will help determine what the next steps will be. This includes assessment of my education, employment, finances, rental history, cultural needs and family support situation. Since there is a 3000+ person wait list for homes in the Calgary Housing Corporation, I am told that I will likely never obtain a space in this subsidized housing program in the short term.
Once my assessment is complete, the workers really try to put together a "holistic" plan together for me and my family that we can implement. We will be in touch with various programs throughout the city over the next few days. But tonight, I will need their help with shelter.
Since my children are getting restless, we move over to the "Kidzone" area at the Inn. This is an amazing facility that focuses on education, literacy, parental bonding and helping to make the children feel at ease and secure in a fun environment. There is a huge early childhood education component, which is quite amazing. There are also some interesting drama club events for the older children, along with some pretty cool arts and crafts areas.
(This was one of the hardest parts of the experience for me, as I almost broke down numerous times when trying to imagine my 4 year old innocently playing in here and not understanding why we did not a home to go to anymore. )
The picture above shows the rooms (called "cubicles") where a family will sleep when staying at the Inn. As you can see, there are no doors on these rooms. I couldn't help but note that the sleeping area ( for up to 6 people in one family) is smaller than one tiny bedroom in many homes. There are 27 of these "cubicles" which allow for close to 130 people to take shelter in the facility.
Since the facility is full tonight, we will likely be taken by a chartered bus to a local church facility where we will spend the night. The bus leaves after supper and will return us back to the facility early in the morning. From there, the children will go to school etc.
If there is no available room at a church facility, we will find ourselves sleeping in the common living room on the third floor on one of these mats tonight.
This whole experience was so unique as rather than take you through a generic "tour" of the facility, you actually experience it in a first person perspective. I honestly had a hard time "keeping it together" during the experience as it was so intense and emotional. I left the facility a little misty eyed and thankful that I actually get to return to my privileged life once I walk out the door.
I sat in my car for a few minutes feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and angry upon realizing that some families have to face this reality every day. I became focused on thinking that there must be something I can do to help in the coming months. I have a few fundraising ideas and hope to explore these with my friends and family. Stay tuned.
Here is a quick video that the Inn From The Cold released yesterday and it really is worth a look. Also, be sure to check out their website for more information on how to volunteer and donate to this amazing charity.