Tag Archives: No Fixed Address

My car & I

Kelly Snow

I have to preface my blog with a backstory. I will try to make it quick.

In 2011, I was hired at the Howard Johnson Hotel by the Falls by a gentleman named Fernando Morales, who was my manager. This was one of my first summer jobs, where I worked throughout university. Fernando became more than just a boss to me – he was a mentor, a leader, and a dear friend. Even after we both left the hotel for other positions, we remained connected and worked together on other projects.

In 2014, I was looking for jobs after college, and I happened to score an interview with the Ontario Minister of Labour’s Chief of Staff. As a Labour student, this was my dream job. She called me on the Friday of that week and asked me to come in to meet the Minister himself on Monday. I had called Fernando in a brief panic and asked for advice on interviewing – he had done hundreds of interviews during his career – and his powers of persuasion were second to none. He suggested we get together and he generously took the evening off work for me, paid for our meals, and at the end, he thanked me for coming to him for help. He told me that it meant a lot to him that I came to him for this first. If I learned anything from my time as one of Fernando’s lucky staff, I learned to work hard (although, that was a lesson I learned first from my own father), and to be generous with my time and my resources – and my blessings. I learned to treat anyone who came to me for help the same way I’d want my own family to be treated.

In November of last year, Fernando was in a car accident on his way to work. He was airlifted to Sunnybrook hospital where he passed away. Not a week later, I was also in a car accident after being clocked by another driver. I was fine, if a little shaken up, but my car was written off. Fernando’s funeral was on a Saturday, and I spent the latter part of that same weekend car-shopping.  I bought a bright blue 2016 Prius C and it was special because it was the first car I bought brand new. It was the first time I could afford to do so –  a steady job allowed me to be a bit pickier than I had been in the past. I’d like to think that it was partially on account of Fern – he had provided me with the tools necessary to obtain my first professional role out of college, which eventually lead to my current position. And I’d like to think that partaking in No Fixed Address is my way of paying forward and honouring the generosity and kindness he always showed to me.

 

Kelly Snow is on the YWCA Niagara Region’s Board of Directors and apart of the YW BOD NFA team.

Getting To Know You Questions – #RealityCheque

Get to know your bloggers! This month, learn what their experience has been with poverty and homelessness. We asked them to pick some of the following questions to answer:

  1. What is one misconception you had on poverty, that you now feel differently about?
  2. The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?
  3. One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others, have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.
  4. For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?
  5. As part of our hashtag campaign #RealityCheque – Can you share, how many missed pay cheques until I am homeless?
  6. Sometimes it isn’t missed pay cheques, have you or someone you know had a life changing experience that has impacted their housing?  Please share.
  7. If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.
  8. How will you be participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event this year?

 

Crystal

What is one misconception you had on poverty that you now feel differently about?

I thought that nothing I could do would help anyway, so why bother. I’ve seen how far a little money can go. The YW can stretch a dollar like you wouldn’t believe, and help people looking for the Crystal Carswellmost basic human needs that we take for granted.

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

Sadness. I’ve met some incredibly interesting women through the YW, and heard stories from women from all walks of life. It’s heartbreaking when they find themselves at that door.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.

I am very lucky in that I have friends I can live with in desperation, or an ex who would no doubt move us up to Brampton in extreme circumstances. Not everyone is lucky enough to have this kind of support system.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year?

Team Cap (my son and myself) will be toughing it out in our little sedan over night! Can’t wait to see you all there!

 

Marilyn

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

When I hear the word “homeless” it makes me feel fearful and vulnerable. Being homeless is one of my worst nightmares.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others. Have you ever found Marilynyourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.

I left home when I was 16 because of an abusive male in the household and signed myself into a youth home in Welland. From there I moved to Toronto where I lived in boardinghouses and shelters. I am grateful for the security and provisions I was given while I was there. I will never forget the life skills and guidance I was given in order to be able to take care of myself and survive.

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?

Nothing lasts forever! — This doesn’t have to define you or who you are. Take advantage of the guidance and assistance offered at the shelter. Immerse yourself in the many  different skill-based courses provided by staff who truly care about others.

How will you be participating in the YW’s No Fixed Address event this year?

I will be spending the night in my car to raise money and awareness to the plight of poverty and how ultimately, it affects us all. Ignoring a problem never makes it disappear.

 

Dana

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?
It brings out sadness. A home is so much more than a shelter that protects you from the elements; it’s everything. It’s your safe place, a place that provides food, shelter, love and nourishment for you and others. It gives you a sense of pride and safety, and without a home a lot of those things can be taken away. Your safety, your comfort, your confidence, and your ease of mind. It brings out worry, anxiety, and fear. I know that my home has always been a constant in my life, a safe place to go that is full of love. I know when I walk through my front door everything gets a bit better. For someone not to have that reassuring feeling is sad, and scary, and no one deserves to have that taken away from them.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others. Have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.
I am lucky enough to have never experienced homelessness – then again I am only 27 years old and there’s a lot more life to live. I have a fantastic family who has supported me my entire life, and even during my most “irresponsible spending” years and a brief time where I was unemployed, they supported me and I never had to worry. I also have a wonderful boyfriend who has supported me through my time of unemployment and was able to pay for our rent and living expenses. I was very scared during that time, even though I had no immediate threat of homelessness, so I can only imagine how scary it must be when you are in that situation.dana

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?
I would want them to know that aside from the physical roof over their head and food in their bellies, there is a support system there that can help them through the roughest times. There is a support system, a team of caring, loving, and helpful people working and volunteering at the shelter who are there solely to help people who need it. They are there to help you get through this rough time, and build a better life. They are there for you.

As part of our hashtag campaign #RealityCheque – Can you share, how many missed pay cheques until you are homeless?
I am lucky enough to be sharing my expenses with a partner, and because of that, I could last a bit longer without my pay cheques. If my partner and I both missed more than two, then we wouldn’t be able to stay in our house.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more.
I am very blessed to have two families who would let me stay with them if I became homeless. I am also very fortunate to have a number of close friends who live nearby who would also let me stay with them without question. If I were in a situation where I did not have such a fantastic support system, then yes, I would access an emergency shelter.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year?
I plan on volunteering!

 

Irene

The statement “I’m homeless” brings what emotion out in you?

Heart stopping fear.

One of the messages that is shared through No Fixed Address is that homelessness doesn’t only happen to others, have you ever found yourself homeless?  Please share that experience if you have.Irene2

Tragedy has no boundaries . It comes knocking on your door without warning , or discernment. It can strike anyone from all walks of life, male or female and at any age. Everything that was once  your home where your children and grandchildren laughed and had family dinners is gone in a storage unit, unrecognizable .

Your entire life becomes disjointed like a puzzle someone threw on the floor in anger. You are not able to find the pieces to put it all together again.

Imagine a 4′ by 4′ square. The space within not even enough room for your body to lie full length. Within that space you hold your precious belongings. No room to move , no room to sit, standing all alone and afraid to leave that one spot for fear of losing that as well. You become frozen with fear. Even breathing is hard . Standing perfectly still is the only way you will keep from losing that small ground completely . You  almost become invisible to the world.

For someone experiencing homelessness, staying in one of our shelters – what would be something you want them to know?

To reach out to someone they trust.  To never lose Hope.  Get up every day and do one thing that brings joy to your heart.

 

Allison

Sometimes it isn’t missed pay cheques, have you or someone you know had a life changing experience that has impacted their housing?  Please share. 

I have had two relatives lose the place they called home due to very similar circumstances – the death of a parent. As a result, they both experienced hidden homelessness, and were living out of their cars, motels, and with other relatives. These are situations that were difficult for me to emphasize with at first, because I knew very well that these people had the financial resources to secure a place to live. After getting involved in volunteering with the YW I came to recognize other factors that were involved in them becoming homeless, and that while it may seem to others that they actively chose that path for themselves, there are many factors in our society that have contributed to their situations, such as mental health issues, a lack of available support services, and stigma.

If faced with being homeless next month – would you access an emergency shelter?  Whether yes, or no, please share more. 

I’m very fortunate during this current period of my life in that I have a strong enough support network that I would feel confident in finding someone to stay with temporarily. Prior to this year however, I felt that I would have to uproot my entire life to live with distant relatives in a different city if this were to happen to me. Since then, many things have changed. I started volunteering for the YW, which has given me awareness of the resources I could use, but more importantly, I became employed. Although I make minimum wage, being employed has opened up many doors for me both financially and socially. I have coworkers that I know I could turn to for help should I need it, and for that I am immensely grateful. Also, I have enough money saved so that I could rent another place should I need to. Right now I have a lot of agency in my life that I did not feel that I had up until this year, and I am so thankful that I would not have to leave what I have to access a shelter, as many people must do in order to survive.

How will you be participating in the YWCA No Fixed Address event this year? 

This will be my second year helping out with the event, and I have been looking forward to it for months! This year, I have been involved in the Volunteer Recruitment Subcommittee in which I have been assisting with getting people involved in helping both with the Cardboard House display as well as No Fixed Address, often by promoting them at community events throughout the summer. On the day of the event, I will be there to help ensure that we have volunteers where we need them to be, and if my work schedule will allow it, I hope to be participating by staying overnight in my friend’s car. Regardless of what my involvement looks like, No Fixed Address holds a special place in my heart and I consider being involved with it a great privilege!

 

No Fixed Address 2015!

No Fixed Address – A Humbling Ride

Well, what do I say about my first time being involved with No Fixed Address? When I came on as a summer student, I had no idea what I was really in for. I had done research into the YWCA and their signaturKids playing in lote event of course, before beginning, but nothing can really prepare you for actually living it.

Coming into work every day at one of the shelters the YW runs grounded me from day one.

Every morning I walk past the ladies standing outside, talking together and starting their day. I say good morning and smile, stop and chat if they show an interest, before heading up to the loft to start the day. Through the social media management, the meetings, the donor relations, the planning and running around, I always have these ladies in the back of my mind.Niagara Roller Girls Chalk drawing
The day of NFA brought them screaming to the front.

When the sky opened up and soaked me through, I thought of them, and wondered how many had been caught in weather with nowhere to go. Those moments when I felt a little lost because I was aimless, I thought of them and wondered what it must feel like to not belong anywhere. Finally, when it came time to sleep in my car I thought of them.
With the windows open, and loud people around me; with no sense of privacy or personal space, with cramps in my back I thought of them. Then I cried. I sat there in the front seat trying to get comfortable and thought of these women I talk to every day, and the journey that brought them to us.

Please don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun throughout the day. I made new friends, laughed, and danced (badly). I enjoyed the games and the feeling of working together to make a difference. I will absolutely be back next year to help in any way I can.

Ultimately though, this amazing experience humbled me, and I am just so grateful for it.
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NFA 2015: Past Participant Interview

Happy Thursday everyone! We are a little over a month away from next month’s NO FIXED ADDRESS 24 hour live-in-your-car-a-thon! Our big event takes place on August 14th and 15th in the Pen Centre parking lot! Our goal is to raise awareness about poverty and homelessness by having others experience what it’s like to live out of your car. Want to make a difference? Visit the NFA website to sign up, make a donation, or volunteer (www.nfaniagara.ca)!

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Maybe you aren’t sure if you want to sign up just yet. Maybe you need to hear what it was like from someone who has participated in the event? Well, we reached out to past participant Christina Papetti to answer some questions about her and her family’s experience at No Fixed Address. Christina and her family have participated every year since 2012.

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Y: What first caught your attention about No Fixed Address in 2012?

C: The first time I heard about no fixed address was from my sister. She was working at the YWCA and told me about it and asked if we would do it. I’m so glad we did.

Y: Why did you choose to register as a team with your family, rather than as an individual?

C: We register every year as a family because we use this to help the homeless and it’s also bonding time for us! We do everything as a team: our signs, getting the donations, and we make it kind of like a family day. We look forward to it every year.

Y: What was your first family experience like at No Fixed Address?  What was it like trying to fit yourself and your children into one car for the night?

C: The first year was a little difficult, we weren’t very organized. We now know that it gets chilly out in the early early morning, so we bring warmer blankets and socks. I now know how much my daughter moves when she’s sleeping and how loud my son can really snore!

Y: What are some of the things that you and your children have learned from No Fixed Address?

C: I love that every year when we get home after spending the 24 hours in the car, my kids ALWAYS  say how sorry they feel for the people that have no choice but to sleep in their cars. They say how lucky they are that they only have to do it once a year and then they get to come home to THEIR beds.

Y: How has No Fixed Address changed yours and your family’s perspective on homelessness?

C: My kids see that it doesn’t take much to make a difference, and they see that some people really don’t have a choice. I think they have learned a lot. I am a very proud mother of all 3 of my kids; all 3 have done things that put me in awe. One example is how they gave up THEIR lunch money to buy a coffee and muffin for a older man who looked like he could use it. When I asked my son what he had eaten for lunch that day, his reply was “I’m good, I know I can eat when I get home.” It makes me so proud to know that my kids know that they can change the world for a person in need.

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A very special thank you to Christina and her family for their ongoing support — and to everyone involved in No Fixed Address! Make sure you sign up for NFA TODAY!

No Fixed Address: Behind the Scenes

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Isabella Daley of Hamilton, after her inspiring speech of her experience with poverty.
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The Amazing Race kicked off in “St. Catharines” – did contestants Park it or Poop it to get dressed for their job interview?
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The Amazing Race moved to Grimsby where rent is the highest in Niagara – fitting that they had to decorate keys for their challenge.
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Team Duck Dynasty Gone Redneck always brings the team spirit.
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Could the Amazing Race contestants build a shelter out of cardboard in “Welland”?
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Everyone loved our extremely talented face painter. *Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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Getting into the Zumba groove!
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*Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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Kevin and Linda Bonnar enjoying a moment of relaxation during a busy day. *Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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*Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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Everyone is welcome at No Fixed Address! *Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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Our wonderful Target volunteers. *Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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Staff and No Fixed Address Committee members. *Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
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Chefs Robert of Church Street Bistro and Maria from the YWCA St. Catharines.
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Congratulations to our top team fundraisers – Mat Siscoe and Chrissy Sedowski!
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Vinyl Flux tore up the stage for the third year in a row.
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Irene Motz closes the evening with the most moving speech about her experience of homelessness.
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Waking up with some morning yoga.
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Congratulations to Kevin Bonnar, our top individual fundraiser with an incredible $1839.00 raised.
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*Photo courtesy of Eva Derrick Photography
                Thank you to Participants, Volunteers, Committee Members and Staff – what an amazing experience.

Dear Diary, I slept in my car

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Pre-event Diary Entries:

Day: Can’t remember – but it was August 2013 – Weak moment during the Manager’s Planning Day crunching numbers for a balanced budget…agreed to actually participate in No Fixed Address in 2014, by sleeping in my car and raising pledges.

Day: June 16th – Bit the bullet and registered as a participant for NFA today.  It’s real, I am going to sleep in my car.  Posting my goal as $100.00.  I sent a plea out to my contacts looking for donations.  Emailed my daughter Arlee to register, we are in this together.

Day: July 9th – Reached my goal of $100.00 today – with one really generous donor.  Still feeling the high of reaching that goal, that I know will help the YW…..I raised it (internally in my own head) to $200.00 and am well on the way!

Day: July 20th – Got Arlee’s text – after registering she posted the event on her Facebook, and got two donations in the first 15 minutes.  She is super excited and confident she’ll reach her goal.  Can’t be that happy for her though, she is taking from our small family donor pool – I should have approached them first!

Day: August 8th – Attended the last official NFA Committee meeting before the event.  next week at this time.  I will be journaling my experience of spending 24-hours at No Fixed Address.

Day: August 11th – Volunteered to be at the Cardboard House, interactive display speaking to the myths and misconceptions around poverty and homelessness at the Pen Centre.  At our Emergency Shelters we have Women’s Advocates – staff that help the women and fMG_8165-1024x682amilies that come to our shelters for help.  I am Administration – to the core.  My mantra at the YW is…..and you can ask anyone…..”Let me get you an Advocate“!  These women are the professionals and I admire each and every one of them.  Today, I got a taste of what they must experience on a daily basis.  People going through the Cardboard House came through and shared some of the most intimate details of their lives, times when they too found themselves homeless and of how it took one special person to believe in them, or how they have come through it changed and grateful for the everyday things.  I was so touched I could only thank them for sharing their experiences with me.  It was affirming to hear that the work of the YW is important, and community support is critical in a person’s journey back from poverty and homelessness.  To the ladies and gentlemen that shared, thank you so much – you have given me yet another reason to participate in NFA.

Day: August 14 – Packing up for NFA tomorrow.  What does one pack to sleep in their car?  I keep telling myself, for me this is only for one night…..for others this is their reality.

Event Day Diary Entries

Day: August 15 – Up at 5:30 a.m. and sent a text to Arlee that I will see her after she is done work at NFA.  After strategically switching cars for the day (I now have our roomy Caliber – Steve has chitty-chitty bang-bang) I leave the house at 7:00 a.m. to help set-up the event area with the other committee volunteers (these people are energizer bunnies).  Packed the night before, as I head out the door, I feel I am as ready as I will ever be for the adventure ahead.

8:30 a.m. Registration open, participants begin to arrive.  I am helping with Volunteer Registration – we have so many giving their time today.  Shout out to our regular front desk volunteers helping with NFA, our faithful YWCA staffers, to the many Telus staffers, Target staffers, Sitel staffers and all the individuals that gave us their time.  Special mention to our regular IT guy, Greg from Powernet – every year he arrives early and gets us all set-up and connected for the computer work ahead.

10:00 a.m. Opening Ceremonies.  Participants setting up their car areas, registration is still underway and the “And Then Life Happens” game begins.  Choice or Chance…the participants get a taste of events that can happen …… that can change everything in an instant.

11:00 a.m. The Amazing Race gets underway for participants.  This fast-paced game puts participants through several challenges…..first to arrive at the finish line wins.  I participated in this event a few years back….we did not win…enough said, to elaborate more would only make me look bad.

Sweet note to add:  The winning family donated the gift certificate they won, back to the YWCA!

12:30 p.m. Lunch is served – big thank you to Rob Rolfe from Bistro on Church and his volunteer crew from Sitel for cooking.  Lunch was great – best hotdogs ever!

1:00 p.m. Guest Speaker – Very Powerful, first hand experience on living in poverty and the choices she had to make and continues to make.  Thank you for speaking out, you gave me goose-bumps.  Makes me grateful for everything I have – not material things, but for the support of family, friends and community.  I feel safe.

2:00 p.m. – Craft Stations and Bouncy Castle for kids.  I still have night terrors from last year when I helped supervise the bouncy castle.   Looks like everyone is having a good time – and are actively participating in the challenges posed to them in the And Then Life Happens game.

2:30 p.m. – I have begun to ration my water/liquid intake…..the port-a-potties are starting to scare me.  Trying to avoid an night time trip.

Friends drop by the event…I encourage them to come back later for the band…these are our rock’n roll friends, so they confirm they’ll be coming back later.

3:00 p.m. – Zumba by Shelley…..where does she get that energy?  I still can’t believe that the Welland Rose Court did Zumba……with their tiaras ……that is amazing!  Oh to be that young and graceful again.

5:00 p.m. Dinner is served – thanks again to Rob and his crew from Sitel.

Arlee messages me – she is on her way – did I save her a spot?  Oh YES I did pumpkin – strategically parked on the perimeter so she’d have easy access.  Feel better that she will arrive shortly.

5:30 p.m. (ish) Vinyl Flux begins rock’n the event – they draw a great crowd every year and we are busy at registration providing people with information and registering the later arrivals who just finished work.  I need to go see these guys next time they play in my neighbourhood.

Arlee arrives and helps us with registrations..I take her to see the cardboard house display – also looking for an opportunity to go into the mall….and the Target washrooms – very clean!  My rationing liquid is not working very well – I have the bladder of a squirrel.

7:00 p.m. Fire Trucks arrive – kids love it!

Arlee wants to get some mother/daughter pictures of us NFA 2014at the event…to post online.  Get Maria to snap several pics…several poses later, we agree on one we like for sharing. (this isn’t the one…but I liked it best)

7:30 p.m. Award for And Then Life Happens game presented.

8:30 p.m. Arlee and I head over to the car to set-up sleeping bags and change into what we think will be comfy sleeping in the car clothes (trust me, those clothes don’t exist).  As we lay out the sleeping bags and blankets, I notice that the Caliber isn’t really as big as I thought it was…. this is going to be…cozy.

9:00 p.m. Movie starts – the Terminal.  We are winding down, my registration duties done for the night…we take our camping chairs and sit by our car to watch the movie.  Someone pulls up, arriving late and completely blocks our view of the movie screen.  Slowly we turn, look at each other…and laugh hysterically.  I might be more tired than I thought.

We then spent the next 2 hours  talking about nothing and everything…..work, family, friends, upcoming events….future plans and dreams.  I really enjoyed this time just talking with Arlee – we need to do this more often (without the sleeping in my car part).

11:30 p.m. – Movie over, people are winding down.  We head over to the port-a-potties, for one last visit.  Yuk.  I remind myself, even port-a-potties aren’t an option for those living in their cars – I suck it up.  Learned I can hold my breath a lot longer than I thought I could!

12:00 midnight – all snuggled in – we have a brief conversation on safety – I win, we lock all the doors.  Did discover two things….the Caliber hatch-back doesn’t open from the inside and two sleeping bags does not a soft mattress make.

Arlee remembers a time when she was younger with her sister and their father, travelling to go camping they stopped roadside for him to sleep and were awaken by a police officer tapping on the window, shining a light into the car to see if everything was alright.  It was scary.  We agreed. even with our tinted windows, there is a vulnerability you feel when trying to sleep in the car.

Lost my socks under the blankets…start laughing hysterically….determine we are over tired and agree to sleep.

1:30 a.m. Starting to drift into a light sleep.  Last thought…..look over at Arlee sleeping – she looks the same way she looked sleeping at the age of five.  Comforted with the fact that I am not here alone.

1:30 a.m. – 5:50 a.m. – It was a fitful night spent trying to get comfortable, which was literally impossible.  Remember being thankful for two things – one – that Arlee doesn’t snore and two –  I am short and could stretch out from time to time.  Could hear the dull sound of the highway and remember thinking, this is only for one night.

August 16 – 5:51 a.m. Woke up, feeling a little stiff.  Arlee still sleeping.  It was still quiet, so I laid there watching the clouds, seeing the birds flying overhead experiencing the day begin.  Totally different feeling than when I experience the beginning of my day…in my own home, from my own bed.

I couldn’t imagine if this was my reality, how I would then begin my work day, go about my business, knowing that at the end of the day…I had to do it again, and again and again.

6:45 a.m. Arlee wakes up – finally.  I admit, I did poke her – I  was getting sore and just wanted to get out of the car.  Tall Arlee, finally got to stretch out – it may take a couple of hours, but she’ll walk upright soon.

We head over to the port-a-potties….people are getting up, I am hoping I look no worse for wear – but the understanding smiles we greet each other with says it all.

Decide to brush our teeth with bottled water and my toothpaste….BIG sorry to the two people sitting opposite us outside their car…I spat before I realized you were going to get the visual.  Figured if you used the port-a-potties this was nothing.

7:45 a.m.  Had coffee (missing my favourite mug) and a muffin for breakfast – tasted so good.  Thank you Tim Hortons!

8:00 a.m. Yoga by Sarah – I gave Arlee my yoga mat to use (so technically I was doing yoga too), she went to do the morning yoga with a few other flexible souls.  I headed over to registration trailer to see how the number counting was going.  Most of us slept over, you could tell the ones that didn’t……they were fresh faced and 100% coherent.  The rest of us were functioning on …. the power that this will be over soon.

9:00 a.m. Closing Ceremonies – Awards were given out – Arlee received the Social Butterfly Award – for using social media to promote the event.  This year’s NFA total raised over $52,000.00.  Excellent – big thank you to all those that participated, those who donated and supported this event.  What a great community.

After Event Diary Entry:

August 16 and 17 – Took two full days to recover from the experience.  Emotionally and physically.

sample 14I survived NFA 2014 – and I have the certificate to prove it.

More importantly, I feel I am a different person because of it.  Once you’ve lived an experience like this, you can’t forget it.  This has now become a part of me – I move forward with more empathy, more gratitude for what I have and the people that support me and even more determination to help fight poverty and homelessness in my community.  A car is not a home and a back seat is not a bedroom – I need to actively do my part in taking care of the most vulnerable – only then should we all sleep soundly in our own beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Facts of Poverty

Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words.

In this final post before No Fixed Address 2014, we let the statistics do the talking:

YW 1 YW 2YW 3YW 4

 

 

 

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*Statistics courtesy of YWCA Niagara Region, Raising the Roof and The Niagara Region

Question of the Month – Do We Vilify the Poor?

With No Fixed Address just around the corner, the YWCA Bloggers have chosen to take a look at poverty and homelessness for the month of August. It’s a theme that has been in both local and international news lately; the St. Catharines Standard’s Cheryl Clock has written a series about the Faces of Poverty here in Niagara, and Montreal, Glagslow and London were each under scrutiny for their anti-homeless spikes outside storeMetal spikes outside London flats fronts. Clock’s articles garnered respect from a few, but outrage from most. Comments that blame women living in poverty for having children, that those living on OW are lazy and could find full time work if they only tried, that all problems would be solved if someone living in poverty just quit smoking and drinking Timmy’s coffee…

These anti-homeless thoughts and acts have led our Bloggers to our Question of the Month:

Do we vilify the poor?

 Opinion #1

YES! It’s not a question of if we do, but rather how?

Sometimes, when we see someone panhandling, we are often rude to them or keep walking as if they don’t exist. It is not difficult to offer a respectful, “No, sorry”, rather than make the assumption that the person will take the money straight to the nearest Beer Store. In some cases of course, they will, but not all, and not all should be treated as if they are. Sometimes all they need are the resources to better themselves. Information goes a long way.

ID-10074836Those on Ontario Works are labelled as “lazy” and said to be “siphoning off the system”. When in reality, the Niagara Region has an appalling unemployment rate and many are collecting Ontario Works while still working part-time because that’s all that is available. Not to mention, many on Old Age Pensions or Widow’s Pensions need Ontario Works to supplement their income to match a basic living wage – a mere $599.00 per month. Considering rental amounts in the area are at least $400 for a room in shared accommodations, that doesn’t leave much left to eat.

There are those who need to use some of their food money for medication (many people are still not covered by the government) so they attend food trucks and soup kitchens only to be sneered at as if they are expecting a hand-out, when all they want is to relieve their hunger pains.

Being poor is not a crime. It’s an unfortunate circumstance many find themselves in by being born into it, by life throwing a curve ball, or, yes, making bad decisions. People make mistakes, and no matter the contributing factors, it doesn’t mean that they will always be poor or that they are “bad” people because of it. Assuming they are doesn’t help your community thrive, it only perpetuates the stigma that continues the cycle of poverty.

 Opinion #2

So, the question of the month is: Do we vilify the poor?

And the short answer is yes. The long answer: yes again.

But that’s simplistic. Perhaps we could also ask why do we vilify the poor and also, what kind of poor do we disparage? Do we knock the working poor? Or do we regard that group as the bravely struggling “deserving poor”? Do we vilify those who must access social assistance (in whatever form) as the “undeserving poor”? And who does the maligning and why? Deserving and undeserving seem moot distinctions to me, particularly if you consider poverty as something a great many of us could easily slide into. It may be a slow side for some, but for others, it’s a quick drop. Perhaps that is the who and the why. Many of us like to believe we work harder for our money than the “average Joe” and therefore deserve more compensation because of it. It’s a silly distinction. For many Canadians, poverty is just a paycheque, an illness, an untimely death, or an addiction away. And as such, it is both circumstantial and structural.

graphics 003Circumstance and structure…these two words also describe my privilege as a Canadian with a reasonable income and assets. I’m keenly aware of my luck and how it could change at any moment. I only have to look to the generations that begat me to see that I am a product of good fortune, chance, and the burgeoning post World War II economy and its new social programs. Both of my parents grew up during the Great Depression. As a child, I was fascinated by my mother’s tales of prairie dust storms, men who rode the rails, and hungry strangers who came to her parent’s door to ask for a meal or a sandwich. I wondered who those people were and how they came to hitch a train from the east to the west. But it put a personal context to the history I would learn in school. Years later, my mother lost her father at 15, and a scant two weeks after, the family was turfed out of the company housing they lived in. Structure and circumstance provided my grandmother with a job. Her own family circumstances, and a changing post World War I society, meant she had the opportunity to train and work as a nurse before she married. She was fortunate enough to have that profession in her back pocket when her husband died and she was left with three children to raise. That job saved the family from destitution.

When I look at photos of my father’s childhood, I am reminded of Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era images of down and out Oklahomans escaping the dust bowl. There he is in shabby overalls, standing with his sister and a cousin, looking like schmierfink urchins. He used to tell me that he was lucky. He had shoes when many of his classmates didn’t. In truth, circumstance and structure meant he was largely raised by whatever relative could take him in: his mother had died young, and his father had lost his job during the Depression and was living “on relief”. Circumstance and structure led him to join the air force during the war (when asked, he cheekily said he enlisted because “my daddy didn’t own a store”). After the war, circumstance and structure allowed him a university education, something that would have been previously unimaginable, despite his capabilities. His education was a result of new post war initiatives to help returning soldiers reintegrate through education (and that in itself was a result of a government fearing strife. With thousands of men coming home without ready jobs or job prospects, it was better to buy them off than to see them riot in the streets.)

657673_bus_shelter_So where am I going with this meandering family tale? Well, I wanted to put a lineage of sorts to our understanding of poverty. Prior to the advent of the welfare state, poverty was purely a private matter. If you were down on your luck, lost your job, or lost a breadwinner and could not find family able or willing to take you and your children in, well then, too bad for you. There wasn’t much but the workhouse and charity to keep you barely subsisting. For years after the Depression, the Canadian state and its provinces slowly built a social welfare system that used tax dollars for collectively responsible programs and projects. The state set up federal pension plans, unemployment insurance, disability pensions, and social assistance. Our governments implemented minimum wage laws, public health insurance systems, funded and constructed social housing, and built post secondary institutions (as well as set up student grant, now loan, systems to make schooling more attainable). There was a new middle class project, or at least a slim nod toward building a more equitable society. But slowly over the past 30 years, the idea of collective responsibility for a more equitable society began to erode. Social programs were slowly and steadily cut or funding offloaded, and the idea that the state should attempt to alleviate inequality was abandoned. Food banks became a growth industry even as the economy was still growing. And instead of viewing poverty and wealth as structurally enabled situations, poverty was once again constructed as something someone “brings on” himself or herself. Of course, wealth too was viewed as having everything to do with an individual’s personal skills and attributes, and nothing to do with circumstance and structure. And here lies the rub, despite the brutal deprivations of the Great Depression, IMG_6161_1the cyclical recessions of the last century and this one, despite all we know about how inequity makes us poorer, less healthy, more addicted, and less socially mobile as a society, we still think poverty is okay. It’s not. And it shouldn’t be a purely personal struggle either. We shouldn’t think we are immune to it or that it is just something that we can’t get rid of. I propose we also stop moralizing and bashing the poor for petty things such as how many children they have, or the cigarettes they may smoke, or Tim Horton’s coffees they may purchase. We should save our outrage for those who have the power to change society and make it more equitable (including making the minimum wage a living wage), but won’t.

Poverty line in Ontario: single person $23,000 (before taxes)
OW ($626 per month single person) $7,512
ODSP (single person $1,086 per month) $13,032
Minimum wage (35 hrs a week, 52 weeks per year] $20,020
(Sources: Income Security Advocacy Centre, Poverty Free Ontario, Toronto Star)

Family Lessons Found at No Fixed Address

Lorraine Snihur is the Charity Support Manager of Trade Bank Canada, the largest            multi-directional barter exchange company in the country, helping not-for-profit organizations cut costs effectively.  She is also one of the many dedicated supporters and participants in the YW No Fixed Address event, sitting as the Chair of the Activities & Entertainment committee since 2013. 

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Born and raised in Vineland, Lorraine says that helping not-for-profits is not only part of her job, but also a great passion of hers.  She believes that we are all put on this earth for a purpose and reminds her two children about the importance of making a difference in the world around them.  Participating in No Fixed Address is one of the ways that the Snihur family has shown their commitment to making a difference in the community.

I had the opportunity to chat with Lorraine about her family’s ongoing support and participation in No Fixed Address.

 

YW: What first caught your attention about No Fixed Address in 2013?

LS: This was an event that stood out from the others, although all fundraisers have their draw, NFA seemed to me to be more of an experience, a commitment and a way that we can help make a difference in our community.

YW: Why did you choose to register as a team with your family, rather than as an individual?

LS: Poverty doesn’t only affect adults…my children have seen signs of poverty at their school when a student doesn’t have a lunch or can’t find the money to participate in a class trip.  They understand that not everyone is as fortunate as they are and that we all have to work together to make a difference.  If we just turn our heads and look the other way exactly what are we teaching our children?  Poverty is not a choice, it is a massive road block for so many people and families in our community and as part of our community they deserve our respect and our help.

YW: What was your first family experience like at No Fixed Address?  What was it like trying to fit yourself and your children into one car for the night?

LS: The activities held throughout the day really shed some light on what life would be like if we didn’t have the opportunities that we have.  It really opened all of our eyes to the “What if’s”.  Sure, we were able to get out of our vehicle when we wanted, and sure we had food and activities to keep us entertained but this event was different.  NFA2013 065 Part of it was fun for the kids as they were able to sleep in the truck however it wasn’t long before they realized how uncomfortable it really was and how horrible it would be if this was all we had to call our home.  It provided our family the opportunity to openly talk about what life would be like – crammed in in a vehicle with none of the things that we take for granted each and every day.

YW: What are some of the things that you and your children have learned from No Fixed Address?

LS: We have learned that poverty isn’t a word only used to describe the situation in third world countries….it is in our backyard.  We have learned that poverty doesn’t mean that the people affected by it are bums with no jobs and no drive to make a better life…it can happen to anyone at any time…it can be a result of job loss, sickness etc.

YW: How has No Fixed Address changed yours and your family’s perspective on homelessness?

IMG_1005LS: When we see a homeless person now, we are not quick to judge as we have no idea what path their life has taken then to lead them to homelessness.  We have also realized that just because someone seems fine on the outside doesn’t mean that they are not one pay cheque away from losing their home or have to choose between feeding their family and paying for heat.  It has made us become more aware, more grateful and more responsible for what we do have.  It has made us think harder and longer about our time here and how we can make a difference – this was definitely an experience to remember and one that we are grateful for.

 

Do you and your family want to be a part of No Fixed Address this summer?  Register here and begin your journey of creating change in the community.

Leading by Example

leadership

As a part of our No Fixed Address filled summer, the YW blogging team thought it would be a great idea to highlight some of the event’s past participants and sponsors.  Intrigued with the opportunity to hone in on my interviewing skills (I did want to be a journalist, after all), I jumped at the opportunity to talk with these local leaders.

As I began sending out email requests, I was overwhelmed by how enthusiastic they were about sharing their event experiences and reasons why No Fixed Address is important to them.

I enjoyed reading all of the responses to the questions I had given them.  Their individual passion to make change in the community, as a team, is undeniable and No Fixed Address has given them an opportunity to be a voice for those who cannot find their own. 

Our Leaders

IMG_0914Crystal D’Cunha (CD) is the Sales Coach at Mountainview Homes, the leading home construction company in the Niagara Region and one of the major sponsors of No Fixed Address.   Passion is something Crystal exudes, as she enthusiastically coaches and manages an innovative  sales team.  As Chair of the Planning Committee since 2013, her leadership and enthusiasm are greatly valued by all of her teammates.  Her commitment towards the success of No Fixed Address has made her a leader in the eyes of those working closely with the event.

Niagara Falls Mayor, Jim Diodati (JD),  is a lifelong resident of the Niagara Region, IMG_0888committed to making a difference in the lives of those who live here.  Last year, Mayor Diodati and his family  participated for the first time in No Fixed Address and as a result were greatly impacted by their experience.  His passion and enthusiasm for participating in various community events and inspiring change throughout the Region has made him a leader to those at the YW and within the community.

Their Insight

What first caught your attention about No Fixed Address?

CD: My son and I were searching for a community event to be able to make a difference in as I wanted to get him involved in helping others. When Nicki presented the concept to me,  I thought it was so unique and creative that I knew immediately that Zorique and I could easily make a difference. Three years later- we have and will continue to!

JD: One was how much homelessness there actually is and how often the working poor spend nights in their car, like some of the people I met that night. They were sleeping in their cars, yet they looked like everyday working type people.  Clearly there was a part missing; they didn’t have a home.  Their home was their car and they maybe had their animal in their car too. That was one of the first things that definitely jumped out at me because I realized that homeless people don’t necessarily sleep on the sewer grates or park benches.  Homeless people have other means so you don’t always see them.  That was the first thing I didn’t realize;  the problem of homelessness  was bigger than I how I originally saw it.

How was your first experience at No Fixed Address?  How was sleeping in your car for the first time?

CD: Humbling to say the least! One does not realize how privileged we really are.  It was an emotional, rude awakening and a somber moment when you realize that your headrest is your pillow, and you have no heat.

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JD:  Sleeping in my car for the first time was a little bit challenging because I had both my daughters in the car.  Number one, it’s hot so it’s hard to stay cool.  Number two, there was a light, a security parking lot light, that was flashing on and off and on and off, and I would just rather it was either on or off all the time so that was a little frustrating. The other thing is that every time someone went to ‘Johnny on the Spot’, the door was spring hinged so it banged and banged and banged and kept waking me up.  You can’t get a good night’s sleep in the car and, I don’t care how you set it up, it’s not that comfortable so you could appreciate people’s struggle who have to live in their cars everyday.  Definitely not the way I like to do things.

Why have you continued to participate in No Fixed Address and support the YW?

CD: Because of the impact I’ve been able to see.  We have tripled in size in just 3 years, and we actually have a chance at making a difference in women and children’s lives. They can go on to be successful, independent, confident, educated, strong individuals and that alone will give us a stronger tomorrow. And of course, because it’s sincerely helped to make my son and I more compassionate people.

JD: Well I’ve got two daughters, a mother, and a wife so I think it’s important to support women.  I especially think it’s important to support women in distress, which is why I’ll continue to support them in as many different ways that I can.

What are some things that you’ve learned about homelessness from participating in No Fixed Address?

CD: That much of homelessness is hidden and we may not even consider it to be homelessness, but in reality it is.  Also, many people are 1 to 2 paychecks away from homelessness.  It’s not addictions, mental illness, or other stigmas that are the primary cause of homelessness.

JD: I think back to Question # 1, that there is a lot more working poor in our community than maybe we’re aware of, certainly more than I was aware of.

How has attending No Fixed Address changed you and your family’s perspective on homelessness?

CD: We have actively tried to improve the lives of those around us since the event.

JD: I think I shared with my girls first hand what it’s like to be homeless.  You can tell them about it, but it’s very different showing them.  It’s like the difference between eating a steak versus a picture of a steak; it’s a different experience that they got to experience first hand.  As a result, they have a greater appreciation and respect for it and were engaged with the community.

How has your experience at No Fixed Address changed since you first participated?

CD: Well, I have now been chairing the event for two years, and my passion for the event continues to grow year after year.  I’m lucky to have the support of my company, Mountainview Homes, which allows me to take such an active role in the community event.  I have also have a phenomenal team of community leaders to work with, and committee members that are equally as passionate about the cause.  Their passion and commitment has made a tremendous difference in the experience year after year!

Images courtesy of Google and YWCA Niagara Region