SASKATOON, Saskatchewan – Thirty-six hours may not seem like a long time to be without a home, but for Bishop Donald J. Bolen of Saskatoon and nine others, it was long enough to better understand what being homeless is really like.
The bishop, who lives in an apartment in central Saskatoon, said the brief experience of living on the streets opened his eyes.
“The most powerful experience was the vulnerability of the situations that we were in,” Bishop Bolen said after the June 17-18 Sanctum Survivor event to raise funds for Sanctum Care Group, which provides hospice and transitional care for homeless people and individuals struggling with the virus that causes AIDS.
“There are a whole lot of things in my neighborhood that I knew were there and I acknowledged their existence, but I got to see firsthand a lot more of the hurt and the pain in the neighborhood, as well as the joy, and the simple relationships that exist,” he said.
The bishop confessed that the challenges homeless people face are overlooked when driving a car or rushing to get somewhere.
Participants were given a list of tasks to complete during their day-and-a-half of homelessness to demonstrate how even simple undertakings can become daunting for those with limited resources and no place to call home.
“The slowing down of pace and being present in the neighborhood was a very revealing thing,” Bishop Bolen explained. “Once you go slow and you go vulnerably and you are willing to take on each situation and enter into relationship, enter into dialogue, there is a lot of take home in that.”
At a dinner concluding the event June 18, Sanctum Survivor participants reflected on their time outdoors and the struggles that poverty brings, particularly for people suffering from illness, addictions or chronic medical conditions.
Seeking medical attention, visiting the needle exchange, and obtaining a prescription were among the challenges on the participant task lists. The 10 participants also attempted to obtain financial aid by calling Social Services using a public phone or payphone before contacting AIDS Saskatoon to get a ride to the income assistance office.
Without trespassing, challengers had to keep their phones charged – finding public places to “plug in” to keep their phone going for safety, check-ins and social media posts. Another task involved finding places to wash hands at least nine times in one day, especially attempting to do so when sourcing food or seeking shelter. Some participants had the challenge of attending to oral hygiene as well.