Last week, I left my house with nothing but the clothes on my back and went downtown to our YWCA shelter to spend the night for “Keep A Roof Over Her Head”. I can’t deny how odd it felt to drive myself downtown to be homeless…
Let me just say right off the top that spending one night in a shelter with others who are there to learn more about homelessness can never, ever truly tell what someone who faces that every day goes through. The CEO of the YWCA (who also slept over) stated, “In the morning, I want you to remember that the average woman who used our shelter over the winter stayed 154 nights in a row. Think about 153 more nights when you wake up tomorrow.” – a thought I couldn’t shake all night as I slept on a hard mat with the lights on.
In the morning, I felt exhausted. I couldn’t get to sleep because of others in the room chatting and because of the lights. There was no comfortable position for my body on the hard mat. However, I was grateful for a mat, and not to have to sleep on the floor. Dinner the night before was upsetting my stomach. I have a wheat intolerance and the pasta and bun didn’t sit well. Reality check: when you’re homeless, you eat what you get – even if you have allergies.
However, let me get to what really struck me. Shone Abet Thistle from the YWCA told a story of her imagining she was fleeing domestic violence. She had three minutes to gather everything she deemed important and put it in a plastic bag. What would she bring? She managed to stuff items into her bag quickly, but then just before heading out the door, she saw a picture of her grandmother on the wall that was still in it’s original casing. It had been passed down from her grandma to her mother, and now to her. Should she bring it? She broke down knowing she had to leave it behind.
We don’t realize how much is lost when a woman has to flee her home. Imagine for a moment losing all you have in the comforts of your own home, only to find yourself sleeping on a mat, eating buns and pasta, and having to leave the building at 6am with no where to go other than wander the streets in the daytime – no matter what the weather. For many, they did not choose to lose everything. How easy it is to become an addict to numb the pain. To choose to sell your body for sex so you can at least sleep in a bed under a roof, even if it means giving yourself to a man who only cares for the use of your body. How lonely must it feel to sleep night after night wondering what will happen to you, your home, your kids, and your life as you knew it?
I can imagine most of these women want to cry out, “This is not who I am!”, but her cries are not heard by those passing her on the street. All they see is a good-for-nothing woman who needs to “go get a job”. The hard truth is that in my province of Alberta, we carry the 2nd highest rate of violence against women. 905 women and 195 children were turned away due to over-capacity from the YWCA in my city of Calgary last year. Where do they go from there?
There are glitches in our system that keep women impoverished once they get there. For example: women who lose their children due to living in a shelter often can’t afford to get them back because they no longer will receive government funding we all receive for her children, thus decreasing her income. How can she survive on $323 a month?? Even if she has a job that pays $10/hr?
Even beyond issues of fleeing domestic violence, all it could take is one illness to find someone living on street. How many of us have money saved for emergencies such as this for 6 months of income? 3 months? Even 1 month? With the cost of living, many of us are living paycheque to paycheque. This became very real to me while I laid on my mat that night.
Homelessness is something that we have become used to in our society. It’s not odd to see a business person crossing the street along side one carrying a big bag of bottles. We don’t even flinch anymore. When we do look, we can easily think of all the reasons how they got themselves into that situation to dismiss their pain from our eyes.
I’m done with stereotyping them.
I’m done with coming up with why they are there.
I’m finding out the truth, and more than ever I see how we are all the same.
I want to feel their pain, and let it move me to intolerance.
To me, they are not invisible any longer.
Women’s homelessness is one of the topics we are presenting in our show, Invisible playing at Theatre Grand Junction June 14-15, 2013 in Calgary, AB. Tickets are on sale. Hungry to know more and what can be done. Tickets are on sale for only $25 by clicking here.