What would it feel like to experience an evening with no roof over your head? To sleep the way those without heat and bedding and common comforts sleep. It’s estimated there are more than 2,500 homeless people in Fort Wayne, though it’s hard to get a true count as many stay hidden. Chris Howell, RN, BSN, community based registered nurse, Parkview Community Nursing and Care Navigation, took on the challenge of raising both funds and awareness for this population recently. Here, she shares her perspective from spending One Night Without a Home.
This was the third year for One Night Without a Home, an awareness event, held this year at both the Charis House and, for the first time, Praise Park. In its first year, the event raised around $7,000. Last year, it brought in $30,000. This year, Amanda Hakes, RN, BSN, community based registered nurse, Parkview Community Nursing and Care Navigation and I both participated. Through Facebook and friends, we were able to contribute to the more than $30,000 it raised.
Since safety is a primary concern, extensive planning goes into this event. Amanda was at Charis House and I was at Praise Park. The night begins with registration and setting up camp. While we slept in tents on top of cardboard boxes with sleeping bags and hand/foot warmers, one gentleman actually chose to sleep in a chair.
We then gathered for worship, the National Anthem (many veterans are homeless) and a testimony from a graduate of The Rescue Mission. We proceeded to the soup kitchen where volunteers were serving homemade veggie and chicken and rice soup with plain bread donated from Panera. The worship band played several songs. We then proceeded to gather around the fire and participate in activities designed to raise our awareness about homelessness.
The question posed was, “What would you do with a blanket and a tarp?” Many said they would use them as protection from the elements. Others said that the blanket represented a treasured item (this is all that some have). We talked about some of the men (confidentiality maintained) and their reasons for being homeless – abandonment, abuse, drug and alcohol use, relationship issues etc. Their honesty and transparency was very humbling.
We bunkered down for the evening after this. The fire died out and it was 27 degrees. Brrrrr is just the beginning. I was in a tent with two other women, friends of mine who care about the cause. Lying on the cold, hard ground, no matter how much padding you have, is not my idea of comfortable. It was cold and noisy and cold and uncomfortable and cold and almost painful.
At 1 a.m. I had to go to the restroom. Imagine trying to go in the woods or wherever (at Praise Park we had flushing toilets and Charis House had Porta Potties) with all your warm clothing on. I didn’t want to wake my tentmates with my return, so I sat in my car. I only took one blanket with me. (Did I mention it was cold?) I lasted until about 2:30 a.m. before I turned the car and heater on for a couple of hours. Then it was time to get up, tear down the tent, and “move on.” Imagine doing this every day – taking only what you can carry to the next site. We were able to make many trips in our cars with all of our “stuff.”
We then drove back to Charis House to do the memorial walk across Wells Street Bridge to pray for those experiencing homelessness and those we have lost this past year. We ended at the Rescue Mission for breakfast. I heard some of the young men that slept out say that they did not deserve this good of a breakfast. I explained to them that no one in Fort Wayne should go hungry. The Rescue Mission serves at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. 365 days a year.
Now, you try it. Take a look at homelessness.
Consider how you would feel if someone asked you to close your eyes, pick a spot on the map, and then they dropped you off there with only the things you could carry. You would be left to figure out where to eat, how to get from here to there, where to sleep, and oh, how to prove your identity. Imagine not having any coping skills. The mental health aspect of homelessness is huge.
Aside from raising awareness for this particular population, I would never want to sleep in a tent in the cold. It took me days to warm up. I felt awful the whole next day from being up all night, being cold, and barely eating. When I did recover, my warm bed and hot shower had a lot to do with it. I couldn’t have gone to apply for a job or worked in the state I was in. I didn’t have the capacity to think, living like that.
Trust is something that they don’t know how to do, especially with someone outside of their “clan,” which consists mostly of unhealthy relationships. They fear change and the unknown, even if what they do now is killing them. At least it’s familiar. Many self-medicate aware their pain, fear and anxiety. They also do it to fit in. Many start very young, some with their parents.
We know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. But that is their reality. Some are from affluent families, some are poor, but they all burn the bridges to their support system, which is nearly impossible to mend. Homelessness knows no boundaries, especially when mental health and addiction are involved.
We are a society of waste. The $5 we spend on one latte could feel three people. Find a way to get involved and help the homeless men and women in our community. There are so many avenues through which you can make a difference. You don’t have to spend an evening in the cold, but you can improve the life of someone who does.
If you're interested in volunteering for The Rescue Mission, take a look at their list of volunteer opportunities.