Langley’s Chelsea Minhas spent the night of May 5 in a downtown Vancouver alley, trying to sleep in sleeping bag, on top of a flattened cardboard box.
She didn’t have to. She could have been sleeping in her comfortable bed at home, but instead was one of 33 mothers from the region who participated in Sleep Out: Mothers Edition, an event organized by Covenant House, which provides services to homeless youth.
“It was extremely loud and scary. And trying not to think about the mice,” she said. “We saw mice in the alley and the birds are flying above you and there’s sirens and street sweeps. And in downtown Vancouver it never really gets that dark.”
Minhas said she found the experience of lying in an alley frightening, even though she was surrounded by 32 other women, as well as Covenant House staff. Finding sleep was nearly impossible.
“Maybe 20 minutes, if that. And I wouldn’t even describe it as sleeping; It was more dozing off until you heard something loud or remembered where you were and were like, ‘Oh my God.’”
“All of your senses…Your sense of smell, your sense of sight, your sense of hearing, it’s all extremely heightened because you know you’re not safe. You know this isn’t a home, you know at any moment, something could be near you, whether it’s a person, whether it’s a rodent, whatever it is, you’re not protected and you’re very very aware of that.”
Minhas said the night — which began with some presentations for the mothers, to help them better understand the plight of homeless youth in Metro Vancouver and the kind of help they get at Covenant House and ended with a debrief and breakfast — was very emotional for all the participants.
“There was a lot of talk about ‘How could this be happening to these kids, when all of us as moms, all we can think of is protecting our children? How does a kid end up sleeping on the streets like this? What has gone wrong? What has happened to them? What makes the street a better option than being at home?”
Minhas said she went into the exercise thinking she had a good grasp of what a night on the street might be like.
As an employee of Covenant House, she works with homeless youth every day. She said she gained a new understanding of just how hard it is to function properly the next day after having such a poor sleep.
“Intellectually, I’ve always known what they go through, but I never had that kind of real connection to what it is they’ve experienced.”
Minhas said that despite the challenging experience, she would participate in the sleep out again next year. She said that she hopes she won’t be the only Langley mom participating next year, as youth homelessness is also a local issue, which needs more understanding.