UPDATED NOVEMBER 30, 2018
“Not all heroes wear capes.”
This song I wrote with “community” in mind. In Spectrum I am hoping to convey several segments of our society, such as 1) those who are in need, 2) those whose careers are poised in a position where they can help those in need, 3) and those who volunteer their time and efforts to help those in need.
To write this, song I went on a journey. I started volunteering at the 5 and 2 Ministries to deliver goods to the homeless camps of Abbotsford BC. Months later, I did a 24 hour Camp Out with the Homeless on Thanksgiving of 2013. It gave me a very real perspective the points of view of the homeless people. To read about my entire experience, scroll down below the Spectrum video and read my summary of it.
Not all heroes wear capes. And I will keep that in mind when I finish the video. Please enjoy the trailer and let me know what you think!
My Campout as a Homeless Person
Experienced and written by Chantele Delaine
OCTOBER 25, 2013
I had only been peripherally aware of the Homeless population in my City of Abbotsford. But then in June, my awareness was raised to the forefront when something happened at a Homeless camp. This particular June incident brought a whole lot of media attention down onto our City and it also uncovered an ongoing debate over how our Homeless population should best be handled.
As a citizen, I felt the need to insert myself into this debate. I felt the need to form an opinion, to take a side, to take action. Although a knee-jerk part of me had already taken a side on the debate, I refrained from vocalizing my thoughts. I wanted to first support my views with primary research. Thus, I began my research by paying a personal visit to the “Happy Tree,” which is the location of where the June incident occurred.
During my visit, I spoke with several Homeless campers. I thought my research would end with my discussion with these people, yet I instead walked away from the experience with more questions than answers. Like many people, I am frustrated over lack of closure on the issue. Thus, I was compelled to take a deeper look into some potential causes and solutions to our Homeless situation.
What you will find below is a broad outline of some actions I’ve taken to date, in my personal quest to better understand Abbotsford’s homeless issue. What you will not find below are any conclusions or proposals on how to alleviate the dilemma (I will leave that to the experts); Nor will you find me appointing guilt to any party about the sad situation of our street dwellers; Nor below will you find me disrespecting the privacy of the people I had encountered during my camping event. [If you would to learn more about Homelessness, I urge you to please search information available online. There are plenty of voices already out there, stating their opinions and pushing their agenda.]
The main objective of my research and campout is to better understand, not to judge.
My actions to date (I’ve probably missed a few items here):
Interview Homeless campersResearch various entities of our Community to better understand how they interact and how they each fulfills their role.Become a hands-on outreach Volunteer with the 5 and 2 Ministries, handing out sandwiches and basic items to the various Homeless camps in Abbotsford. To camp out with the Homeless, it was imperative that I form a relationship with them first.Visit and volunteer with various humanitarian entities of our Community, such as The Salvation Army, 5 and 2 Ministries, etc. I won’t list further organizations at this point because I have not yet approached them all with explanation of my intent. It’s taking me a while to make personal rounds with all these places, but I will persist. Visit and volunteer at Community Special Events, to better engage other members of the Community and to solicit their opinions.Read various Homeless-related articles so that I may learn the various opinions of those who’ve already educated themselves on the subject.Take a closer look at City documents and reports surrounding the Homeless issue; Inform myself on the viewpoint of our City leaders.Interview representatives of Abbotsford’s business sector, to better understand their stance on territorial and Homeless issues.Let’s camp…
NOTE: My husband did not camp out with me that night yet he was always by the phone in case I needed help.
I refused to camp out on a full belly. My reasoning behind this was 3-fold:
Camping out on a full stomach seems disrespectful to the cause. Thus, I stopped eating solid foods 3.5 days prior to the event. Going on a fast meant giving up my Thanksgiving dinner and instead taking up the consumption of water, tea and vitamin shakes.I wanted to put myself into a weakened state, so that I could determine if the mental and emotional judgement of a Homeless person is greatly impaired under such conditions. As an aside, I continued to consume water and vitamin shakes during my 24-hour camp out, but I did not consume alcohol or drugs.I was embarrassed at the thought of using the outdoors as a latrine; by camping out on an empty digestive system I was able to avoid this situation.
On the day of camp out, I decided to pitch down at the Happy Tree. I chose this location because the camp was run by a female, thus I would feel better protected against potential hostility from other campers. I needn’t have worried about hostility because I was warmly welcomed by the campers, whom I had already formed relationships with during my volunteerism with the 5 and 2 Ministries.
I pitched my tent around mid-day and I was immediately surrounded by the surreal hub-bub of Homeless-related activity. As mentioned before, I will not go into personal details about the lifestyle activities of the Homeless. But it is helpful to note that these people all have stories to tell and each has their personal method of coping with the emotion and realities of life.
The camp leader helped me find an appropriate spot to pitch my tent and a few others made sure that I put a tarp over my tent in preparation of nightfall and rain.
Throughout the daytime, I alternated between hanging out in my tent and hanging out with the Homeless residents of the camp. I was a guest on site and I witnessed a lot of personal things. Sometimes, these activities made me feel uncomfortable, thus I often retreated to the fringes of the camp.
During the evening, several citizens stopped by the camp to offer food. Some donated leftovers from Thanksgiving dinners and one man even brought pizza and soda. I declined to consume any of the food or beverage offered to me, as I did not want to take from those more in need.
Steve and Ella, outreach workers from the 5 & 2 Ministries, stopped at the camp on one or two occasions to make their rounds. After dark, I once texted my husband Dan to take me to a local gas station for a bathroom break. Any further tinkles throughout the night had to be done into a disposable cup and then chucked onto the ground outside my tent.
By a certain time of night, the other Homeless members of the camp were deeply involved in their own activities. It was at this time that I disengaged from further communications with them and I instead switched to the role of isolated observer, taking cover in the shadows so that I did not intrude.
The night was long and I remained awake for much of it. During the times that I retreated to my tent, I would read a book by flashlight. But most often I preferred to hover outside in the shadows. At all times, I was acutely aware of the potential refuge of a building across the street (closed by night): The Salvation Army. I was also aware of the continuous circling of particular motor vehicles throughout the night. Some of these vehicles were black and white, some were not.
I smoked like a chimney. I had only taken up smoking cigarettes (again) about 6 weeks previous. I allowed myself this vice because my nerves became increasingly frayed during mental preparations for my campout. I also used smoking as a coping mechanism to get through the long night. Additionally, smoking can sometimes be considered a social event and I used this fact as a tool: I could use the excuse of lending, bumming and lighting up cigarettes to help me more comfortably approach and engage others in conversation. Interestingly, I got “called out” by one homeless person, who noted that I am obviously not a true, full-time smoker! It seems that I was holding and smoking in an awkward and disingenuous manner. I value this man’s observation – he was once a licensed psychiatrist (or psychologist?) by trade, before falling into personal hard times.
The night continued and on three occasions I cried tears. I don’t rightly know why I cried – fatigue? cold? hunger? loneliness? fear?
Morning arrived. I could hear some of camp residents winding up to their daily activities. I emerged from my tent at around 7:30AM. Then at the urging of my homeless friends, I popped across the street to The Salvation Army, where I got to visit The Redemption Café and enjoy a hot cup of coffee with others coming in from the outside. After coffee, I got to use Sally Anne’s bathroom facilities to wash up and brush my teeth. I then spent about 30 minutes observing both staff members and Homeless people alike, participating in story, prayer and song.
At noon, I broke camp. I donated my tent and tarp to the Happy Tree camp members. I then went home and ate. Now I need to stock up on cinnamon sticks to use as anti-smoking aid.
In the meantime, I will continue to look into the aspects of my Community which intrigue me the most. I suspect I’ll be at it for quite some time come.