Experiencing Sleep Out

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Sleep Out Vancouver Team 3000 Realty

On November 21, 2019, Team 3000 Realty CEO Rosemary Pulice joined 51 other executives for the Covenant House Sleep Out. The group has raised $1,157,907.34* so far.

*Donations are accepted until Dec 30, 2019; DONATE HERE.

The experience began with a panel of youth benefiting from the Crisis Program alongside Covenant House social workers and staff, speaking to the 52 executives participating in the SleepOut event.

We heard from counsellors.

We heard from and about youth who have gone from a lengthy and tumultuous period out on the street to reengaging with education and even graduating with a highly esteemed degree from UBC.

All the participating youth shared that the people at Covenant House felt more like family than anyone else. Covenant House isn’t a shelter, it’s a home.

In addition to the many wonderful services the Covenant House provides, the Vancouver facilities are amazing. There are two buildings; one houses 28 beds for female-identified youth and the other hosts 35 beds for male-identified youth admitted to the Residential Crisis Program. There are 2 to a room, complete with full-length locker and private bathroom. They are incredibly well thought out; the social workers and staff have really listened to and taken into account the feelings of the youth they’re caring for. There are hangout areas, different resources, and details to really make it feel like a home. Youth get 3 hot meals a day, snacks, access to computers, wifi – there is even a secure pet room.

The Crisis Program is not like a typical shelter: once accepted into the program, the youth (16-24 years old) don’t have to leave. So long as they are working towards their goals, they can stay as long as they need. This provides the kind of stability that is required to make future plans and to reach targets.

A couple of times a week there are evening events open to program residents plus anyone living on the street; there are also laundry facilities for anyone in need.

A lot of kids on the street don’t have ID; Covenant House helps all the youth who need help in securing essential identification – not just those in the crisis program.

The choice to focus on supporting this age group is a powerful one. They are certainly saving young people from a really long, tough road. It seems impossible to leave any of their programs worse off. If Covenant House grew, if they could catch everyone at this phase of their lives, their programs have the potential to greatly reduce the number of people living on the streets.

After a generous buffet and time to connect with other participants, we went outside. The Sleep Out was held in an alley behind the building. I was prepared for the cold and the noise of downtown Vancouver, but – it was so bright! The security floodlights were almost blinding.

I was given a basic piece of cardboard with my name and those of my donors, and was told: “You are not doing this alone. Everyone who sponsored you is here.”

I was instructed to grab a sleeping bag. It seemed a meagre opponent to the chill in the air; this is presumably what Covenant House gives to those in need.

In terms of sleeping on the streets, this was a luxury experience. We were nestled in a safe zone. The alley was blocked off with a truck at one end, a construction bar at the other. Several Covenant House staff members sat awake all night, watching over us.

And everything was clean.

The police came by with gold-wrapped chocolate badges and stories of what they had seen. One officer mentioned he doesn’t know how anyone could live on the street and NOT turn to drugs or alcohol; that it seemed impossible. Without developing a major dissociative disorder, there must be a dire need to create dissociation via something else. To check out, every day. And then it’s just a vicious cycle.

It was nice to see the police, not as a force protecting us, but as participants and part of the discussion. They brought the chocolate because apparently, the sugar helps.

Around 1 a.m. most participants tried to sleep. It was really cold then, and the sleeping bags were no match. But remember – we were bundled and prepared with the clothes and supplies we thought we would need. It was still miserable.

I was surprised how much it hurt; not the cold, but that nerve pain in my neck and joints from laying on something so hard. Not discomfort, but real pain. I wondered how aging bodies feel, and found it difficult to comprehend how anyone survives for long in this situation.

Some participants had to move in the middle of the night because a vehicle was exiting a garage; I wondered how often that happens when a person isn’t visible.

At 5 am it was time to emerge. I think a lot of us had been counting down for it to end. Everyone was friendly and in good spirits as we put the sleeping bags away and sat in a group. We talked about the predominant feeling: gratitude. I thought about being hopeful that there is something like Covenant House available. And I felt so grateful that I could go home.

Later that morning I fell asleep in my own warm bed. Upon next exiting my apartment, the cold hit me and brought back the Covenant House Sleep Out experience – and the value of having my own indoor space. What would I do if I couldn’t crawl into bed and be alone on some days? If I was constantly alert? If there were no real distractions, except whatever was playing through my head? It would be so depressing; just impossible to maintain a positive attitude.

When I feel the cold now, I race for blankets and toques. 24 of the 52 executives had apparently completed a Sleep Out event previously; they spoke of times when it was raining. Although Covenant House has tents, we were lucky it was dry.

It reminded me of something a 16 year old panellist had said:

“Now I get to look at the weather, and I’m happy no matter what.”

To be afraid of the weather, to be constantly monitoring your environment for survival… The Covenant House programming is so incredibly important. They are making a real difference by focusing on people intensely and cocooning them in an environment for growth and healing.

What Covenant House is doing is impactful, the staff is amazing, and Sleep Out was a well-thought-out event. How we can help is to raise awareness. Because more awareness equals more funding, and more funding means they can help more people.

Right now the female-identified program is at 80% capacity and the male-identified program is always full, constantly having to turn youth away.

Donate HERE until Dec 30, 2019, to support the Executive Sleep Out initiative. Thereafter donate HERE.

Visit our Season Of Giving page for details of more events #T3K is taking part in, in your area.