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Dear Diary, I slept in my car

 NFA LOGO

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.