Soon enough I’ll be away from the comforts of my home and sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag along with the rest of the group for the ucalgarycares Homelessness at Home program.
As I write with anticipation, the blessings of my everyday life come apparent: I have my own room in a townhouse with my parents, sister, and brother; I have flowing cups of hot tea at my disposal; a desk and computer which to write on; warm comfy clothes and moccasins that I had the money to afford or to be gifted with; a cell phone and friends and family to communicate with; my very own bed that I can return to every night with multiple blankets (and stuffed toys); and, oh, so much more! I am blessed, and I am sure my eyes will be open to even more blessings that I never realized before that I have.
Although I will be without some of my comforts for a few nights, the experience will be nothing like how it would be if I were to experience homelessness. I have shivered in the cold while waiting for a bus, but I have never felt the bone chilling of having to sleep out in the elements, or shivering in line to receive food or shelter. When I told some friends what I was going to be doing over reading week some thought I was going to be see what it would be like to be homeless in Calgary.
No, far from it.
I may have to sleep on the floor in a building that provides me with temporary shelter, but homelessness is not a game and I will not be “pretending to be homeless”. I hope I never have to go through the real experience nor come close to having it be an option between a rock and a hard place.
So, why am I partaking in this program anyways? Several reasons, but first, a little bit of who Julia is: I am an English major (with a double minor in Indigenous Studies, and Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies) close to graduating at the end of the semester; I am a young twenty-two year old woman hoping to get into the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Calgary, with the ambitions to support those in the disability community and the Aboriginal community; I am Peepeekisis (Cree) and have mixed European ancestry, born and raised in Calgary; I work part-time as an Outreach Support Worker and as a Residential Support Worker; I am a Christian (Church of Christ); shy, but a quiet leader; a lover of tea; a writer and a reader; and, a dreamer – but I know I’m not the only one – amongst other things that make up who I am.
Empathy and understanding are two things I hold close to my heart, and I believe these values are at the core of what this program is about. I can learn in school, online, or in the news, about homelessness and mental health, but it is by interacting with people experiencing homelessness and mental health themselves that I will learn the most. I want to hear their stories from themselves, I want to be humbled and learn from them how to best support them, and I want to have a fuller perception of this city, all its beauties, wonders, and grim facts of life.
As a blooming young professional planning to enter a field in which I will be supporting those that are marginalized or disadvantaged, in general, by society and its systems, I believe this sort of first hand experience is critical to my own personal growth so that I can continue to hold fast to the values of empathy and understanding.