Sleep doesn’t come easily when you’re hungry.
It’s tough to be sick when you’re living rough.
Kindness is reciprocated with kindness.
These are just a few of the lessons learned by 11 King’s Christian students after deciding to get a sense of what it’s like to be without a home for 24 hours.
Grade 10 students in teacher Ella LaFleur’s Family and Society class surrendered their phones, wallets and their food recently with a plan to stay overnight in the breezeway of their school. They had also been raising funds for related community agencies: Shuswap Family Centre, the SAFE Society and the Salvation Army.
When school was done for the day they put on their winter gear and started walking. They explained to people and businesses along the way the details of their fund- and awareness-raiser for homelessness in Salmon Arm.
At the Co-op a person there gave them $10, at the Shaw Centre $20. Lafleur explained the students had personal connections with people who work at both places and who wanted to support their cause.
At Grillers Meats the students were grateful when staff gave them nearly their entire sausage-roll tray.
Sleeping was not so successful. They returned to the school around 9 p.m. and had an hour inside as that was their temporary shelter. However, they had missed their ‘soup kitchen window’ as food was only served there from 8 to 9. Luckily, Patti Thurston with the Family Centre came by and brought pizza with her.
As the students were setting up their makeshift beds, a police officer visited.
“Officer Jamie came to do a wellness check,” said LaFleur.
He was treated to a few renditions of Taylor Swift songs.
“We just decided he wanted to hear them and started singing them,” smiled student Emma Braun.
From about 10 p.m. to midnight student Nathan Black and his dad, a chaperone, played music. With the exception of one person who was sleeping heavily and snoring, most of the students had trouble falling asleep. For some people the bright outside lights were a problem as was the unaccustomed noise.
About 1:30 a.m. the students told their teacher they were too hungry to sleep. They eventually headed up to the foods room where they “had some mac and cheese and a few good talks,” as one student described it.
“The amazing thing is that after the post-midnight visit to the ‘soup kitchen,’ they all went to sleep. So we also learned something about the role that food plays in our rest and our ability to sleep,” LaFleur said.
A construction crew arrived at the school before 7 on the cold morning, so the students had to vacate the breezeway. The whole experience, which included a pancake breakfast that morning at a student’s house prepared by two moms, brought realizations about kindness.
As the students were walking along an alleyway they had seen a woman hunched over in the loading bay of a driveway. They realized she was doing drugs. They asked her if they could give her a $30 Tim Hortons card they’d been given.
She said, “stay safe” and “thank you.”
LaFleur noted the woman was incredibly grateful, and incredibly kind to the group at large.
“It was a motherly response to your kindness. ‘Thank you and stay safe.’ It’s ironic when she was engaging in something dangerous, she still cared for your welfare,” said LaFleur.
The students were also given two $25 gift cards by the Jade Palace. They asked a man riding a bike with bags hanging from it if he would like a gift card. He was first suspicious and then surprised, LaFleur said.
One student said he has learned to be grateful when receiving things, because some people aren’t given anything.
Other observations the students made is how much they have themselves but don’t realize it – things like a quiet, dark place to sleep or having a hot drink or meal. Also how uncertain life is for people without homes and how there is no end in sight for them. Student Lewis Picton noted how unhoused people have to be at certain places at certain times to access food or other help, which can be difficult.
Emma Braun said she was sick the next day. She expressed her appreciation for the comfort of home and how difficult it would be to get better when living rough.
Students also spoke about there being no rest or peace.
“It’s kind of like, you need sort of a sixth sense if you’re a homeless person. You need to always be on the edge of everything. You never know if you’re sleeping or something, someone comes up and does something to you,” said Reece Phillips.
Rachel Scott said the class has given her better understanding.
“I want to help people more.”
Several students expressed a similar sentiment, particularly around the need for housing.
LaFleur said the students are interested in addressing the lack of a shelter in town by designing something that is simple, easy to do, but would bridge the gap. If it’s successful, they might take it to city council.
Students also expressed their hopes and compassion.
“I wish that no one dies doing drugs,” said one person.
“And not very many people have to go through homelessness,” said another.
Along with volunteering at the Shuswap Family Centre and the Salvation Army, the students raised more than $3,300 to help combat homelessness in Salmon Arm.
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