News

24-hours for the homeless

By Harley Davidson, Standard Staff

Rita and Daniel Venditti spent the night in their tent to raise money and awareness for the homeless shelters of Niagara as part of the Young Women's Christian Association's annual No Fixed Address event. (Harley Davidson/Standard Staff)

Rita and Daniel Venditti spent the night in their tent to raise money and awareness for the homeless shelters of Niagara as part of the Young Women's Christian Association's annual No Fixed Address event. (Harley Davidson/Standard Staff)

Sleeping in their cars beneath Friday night’s thunderstorm in the parking lot of the Pen Centre made at least a few people realize just how lucky those of us with a place to go home to really are.

That’s all part of the goal of No Fixed Address, an annual event put on by the Young Women's Christian Association, where people spend the night in vehicles or tents to raise money for the homeless.

“Things get really real in the middle of the night,” said Jennifer Warren, who brought her four-year-old son Oliver with her for the event.

“When you’re alone in your car and it’s dark and it’s thundering, you think of how lucky you are that this isn’t your life every day.”

And that’s with blankets and a meal in the stomach.

Warren, who is on the planning committee for the event and is a three-year participant, said there’s always a grateful feeling when she gets up in the morning, knowing she can go home.

“I’m going home to a hot shower and that’s not the reality for everybody. Some people get up and they have to go to work, or they don’t have anywhere to go at all,” said Warren.

Rita Venditti, who spent the night in a tent, said the event does give a sense of what it would feel like to lose your home, obviously not the same, but “the whole experience makes you think.”

It’s the small things you don’t worry about, she said, like her son cutting himself and them not having a bandage.

“Had we had a home and a bathroom, he could have cleaned up. We’d have Band-Aids and so-on and so-forth … When you’re homeless, how do you deal with that? Something so little could become so serious if you don’t have the proper treatment for it at the beginning.”

Venditti said another impactful part of the event was hearing stories about “everyday people” like her who’ve had some tragedy or life-changing event put them into a situation where they’ve lost their home or support-system and become homeless.

“I think some people’s minds go ‘oh they choose to live like that,’ but I think sometimes people stereotype those situations.”

The stories about people with medical problems who can’t afford it were the ones that really hit her, she said.

“If you don’t have coverage through work — which a lot of people don’t have —you have to start using your own resources … it very quickly can turn into a situation where you’ve used your savings and have nothing else.”

“Is it rent, or your treatment?”

“You hear healthcare is free in Canada, so you assume if somebody has cancer they can go get treated. Whereas no, some treatments cost $2,000 a month … so if you’re not insured properly, or even if you are sometimes, it’s out-of-pocket expenses you’re not anticipating that can lead you into a homeless situation.”

St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle was one of the participants to spend the night, raising more than $1,500.

“You can never mimic the experience of homelessness, but it gives a different point-of-view into what people go through every day,” said Bittle.

“Sitting in the car with the rain pelting down and thunderstorms around you, you feel safe surrounded by all the other participants. But to be alone or alone with your kids in a car in a park or somewhere else — it would be a completely different experience. It really stops and makes you think.”

He said the event is more of an opportunity to get a glimpse and raise awareness, because most homelessness is not what we see on the streets.

Elisabeth Zimmermann, executive director of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Niagara, said the purpose of the event is not to replicate the experience of homelessness, but to raise awareness that there are people in our community that are potentially sleeping in their cars or sleeping in difficult circumstances as well as raise funds to support homeless shelters in the region.

“We often think of homelessness as that person who’s pushing a buggy down the road, when that only represents about 5 per cent of actual homelessness.”

“The reality is, we’re all one paycheque, one illness, one life incident away from potentially losing our housing or becoming low-income. As soon as you’re paying more than 30 per cent of your income to housing, you’re at risk of homelessness. It takes one further life event, and you’ve lost your housing.”

“I think there’s a lot of misperceptions around the reality that it’s not a person’s choice. It’s life circumstances and we’ve all times when things have gone wrong in our lives and if you’ve got a good support system you might be able to ride through it. But it you don’t, it doesn’t take much for you to end up losing everything you’ve got.”

This year the event raised a total of $46,386.15.

This was its sixth year.

hdavidson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @Harley_Standard