When the weather here was very cold -- remember that, back in February? -- a group of Rossland's young people decided to have a little taste of how homeless people live. They camped out overnight at Harry LeFevre Square -- to raise awareness of homelessness in local communities, and to raise funds for a project called "Getting to Home."
And their Winter Campout for Homelessness did raise money: $3,158. They presented it to Sheila Adcock and Gail Pighin of Career Development Services (CDS) in Trail, which administers the Getting to Home project. Getting to Home helps people in all communities of the Lower Columbia area who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless without a helping hand.
What inspired these young people to spend a cold night out on February 24th? Mike Kent, Coordinator of the Rossland Youth Action Network, had some answers. He said they belong to the Rossland Youth Service Group (RYSG), socially conscious kids who are committed to making a difference in the world. They support local and international organizations by promoting awareness and fundraising for their causes.
For the "Winter Campout" they displayed poster boards with facts about homelessness, and engaged with passers-by about the issue. Their goal was not to come away thinking they know what it might be like to be homeless -- they understand that this experience in no way reflects what it is like to be truly without a place to stay. They hoped to have the opportunity to raise awareness, break stereotypes and challenge misconceptions about homelessness.
Some of the RYSG explained:
Natasha Robine said, "I think this is a really cool and unique experience to not only raise awareness about homelessness and homelessness in the Rossland - Kootenay area, but raise funds to help those who are homeless. There are many homeless people in the area that go unnoticed, and I believe this is a good way to help them get back on their feet. I do not think I will know what it is like to be homeless after this experience, however, I hope to get a glimpse at how hard it is to be homeless.”
Hannah Klemmensen commented, "Homelessness in the Kootenays isn't always as noticeable as in bigger centres, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It is important that our communities realize this and do what we can to help.”
Connor Dunham said, "To me it is important that we do not turn a blind eye towards homeless in our communities. It is a topic that some people might not think as often as others because they might not see it their day to day lives, however it could affect those whom you least expect.”
Rosie Cameron explained, "I decided to join the Winter Camp Out because it is important to actually see these people. I know it can be hard to face this reality, but the sooner we do, the sooner we as a community can fix it. If my life hadn't gone the way it has, perhaps it would me on the streets watching everyone pass me by.”
The RYSG emphasized their gratitude and thanks to everyone who donated funds, and to the City of Rossland for allowing them to camp out in Harry LeFevre Square, to Rick Greene for the use of his portable fire-pit, and to Subway and the Prestige Mountain Resort for allowing the use of their washrooms.
Gail Pighin provided some information about the Getting to Home project. It started in 2012, and by the end of 2016 the program had helped 467 individuals to find or sustain housing. In 2016 alone, Getting to Home supported 64 men, 44 women and 27 children. Some of the people were given assistance to relocate or get back to other communities because they need the support of their family and friends.
Getting to Home recognizes that just finding housing for a person is often not all that's needed to ensure that he or she can maintain a home; the project also assists people with budgeting, finding employment, and finding other resources such as a physician or a dentist. The idea is to provide them with the knowledge and the contacts they need to establish a more stable life, as well as housing.
One 34-year-old man had this to say about the help he received:
"I had lived my whole life wondering about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD); I had so many questions but no answers. Within a year of moving to Trail and finding CDS, I was on a plane to Vancouver to be tested for FASD. CDS brought me to Vancouver and helped me through the entire process. I now have the answers I have been waiting for my entire life. CDS is helping me find a more affordable place to live and I am getting an Outreach Worker to help me with all my other struggles. I don’t know if I can ever repay them for all the help they gave me.”
(For those who aren't familiar with it, FASD is an umbrella term that describes the range of effects that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before being born. These effects can include lifelong physical, mental, behavioural difficulties, and learning disabilities.)
The Getting to Home project of CDS now has hundreds of stories that cannot be told here, about people finding their way through a difficult time -- with some help.