Thirty-six hours may not seem like a long time to be without a home – but for Archbishop-elect Donald Bolen, and other participants in a Canadian charity fundraiser, it was long enough, writes Kiply Lukan Yaworski.
The aim of the experience was to bring about an increased understanding and deeper empathy for those who experience homelessness as a daily reality.
In addition to Archbishop-elect Bolen, who has just been appointed to the Regina archdiocese, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas, singer-songwriter Brad Johner, local politician Danielle Chartier, and others undertook to live on the streets of Saskatoon as part of the Sanctum Survivor event.
During the 36-hour experience, participants set out in teams of two, dressed in second-hand clothing with nothing in their pockets but a mobile phone (to keep in touch with event organisers and have their position tracked).
The event was launched as a dramatic way to raise funds and awareness for Sanctum Care Group, which provides hospice and transitional care to those who are homeless and struggling with HIV/AIDS. Sanctum is also raising funds for Sanctum 1.5, a planned 10-bed, pre-natal care home for high-risk, HIV-positive pregnant women.
As part of the event, the 10 celebrity participants gathered sponsorships and donations beforehand, raising a total of some $C135,000 ($136,702).
But the challenges of Sanctum Survivor involved more than raising money. Participants were given a list of tasks to complete during their 36 hours of homelessness – challenges that regularly face those who live on the street. The process concretely demonstrated to participants how even simple undertakings can become daunting for those with limited resources and no place to call home.
"The most powerful experience was the vulnerability of the situations that we were in," said Archbishop-elect Bolen.
The bishop, who lives in an apartment in the city's core neighbourhood, said that the brief experience of living on the streets opened his eyes. "There are a whole lot of things in my neighbourhood that I knew were there, and I acknowledged their existence, but I got to see first-hand a lot more of the hurt and the pain in the neighbourhood, as well as the joy, and the simple relationships that exist.
"One of our challenges was to buy a meal, and therefore we had to do the (begging) to get the money," he said. "Chief Felix and I were on 20th Street . . . he popped his hat down (on the sidewalk) and I popped my hat down, and we were there for a little over an hour. Other than the two family members who came to greet Chief Felix, and one other person who said 'hi,' nobody looked at us," he said.
"It was an experience of the invisibility of the homeless or the poor and vulnerable."
Bishop Donald Bolen participates in homelessness challenge to raise awareness/funds for Sanctum Care group (Archdiocese of Saskatoon)