The second Sleeping in Cars event – in which participants collect pledgesand sleep in their vehicle overnight mimicking what some have to do for shelter in the area – was officially cancelled this year due to efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the cancellation theevent went ahead for three individuals who slept in vehicles this pastFriday helping to raise $2347 for the non-profit Places for Peoplewhich works to secure affordable rental housing in Haliburton County for those at risk of homelessness and supports its tenants to make apositive difference in their lives.
Last year’s event which washeld in township parking lots in Minden Haliburton and Wilberforce not only raised $6000 for Places for People but it also raised awarenessof housing shortages
Carnarvon’s Kim Switzer is not just an outspoken advocate for Places for People but is a beneficiary of theorganization’s effort as a resident at the duplex owned by theorganization.
Her experience makes it easy to spend the night in her truck with her 10-year-old daughter Hailey for the fundraiser.
“I’ve been without a home myself and I’ve been blessed to have this[residence]. We need more of this in our community” she said. “What isone night for me to sleep in my car really? To raise awareness and kind of spread the word and to help get a bit of money fundraised … Icouldn’t do this and I couldn’t do what I’m doing for my children right now if it wasn’t for Places for People” she said. “I’d love to domore. If everybody did a little bit more … maybe it wouldn’t be such a huge thing but there’s too much homelessness and youth without placesto go and it’s crazy.”
It’s been two-and-a-half years since she moved into the three-bedroom two-bathroom unit with a backyard for herchildren. She continues to be grateful for the opportunity to get herlife on track after a divorce left her with nothing.
She’s not sure how it happened but is glad it did for her and her family.
“I have no idea other than some kind of blessing this place came up. Ithought I was going to be bounced over to Fenelon Falls and [have tolive in] some little … rundown apartment type of thing. I had no ideawhat was going to happen. For whatever reason this place came up. It’staken me a long time to call it home but it’s been awesome and I’mtruly blessed and I’m truly thankful to have it” she said.
Life hasn’t been perfect since moving in but she’s adjusted and made it home.
“Without it I don’t know where I’d be” she said.
Switzer was left with few options several years ago.
With a Grade 12 education and being a stay-at-home mother who home schooled her children for 12 years Switzer ended up at the YWCA shelter whereshe lived for several months with her three children worried for thefuture terrified of not having a home.
Having the home has enabledher to work through challenges. The security of a safe place helped herto go back to school completing courses at Fleming College obtainingcertificates in wilderness and outdoor courses.
“It has allowed me to grow and is still allowing me to grow” she said.
It led to her forming her own service business two years ago doing workat residences or at Airbnbs such as landscaping cleaning or takinggarbage to the landfill.
“It’s really what does somebody need? Do they need a helping hand because I know what it’s like to not have help” she said.
The other participants were Sylvia Claridge and Val Jarvis who invitedClaridge to join her in her driveway for the evening. Claridge was thetop fundraiser for the second consecutive year having raised $1012 for Places for People.
They both knew harrowing stories of young peoplewho didn’t have alternatives to being homeless. One was a teenage boysleeping in a bank lobby in Haliburton because of a fight with hismother who he reconciled with later.
Another was a young man in his 20s who slept in a field in Carnarvon during the winter with thetemperatures well below freezing. His only method of protecting himselfagainst the elements was to cover up with a tarp and old coats forwarmth lying on a pallet.
Claridge visited him and tried to helpgiving food. His only fear was wolves she said. He slept with a knife.Sometimes he would seek shelter in cabins so he could eat his cannedbeans which would otherwise freeze outside.
Places for People’svice-president Fay Martin said she was grateful to these people forsleeping in their cars and taking pledges on their own. During this time when the message is to go home it’s difficult for some people shesaid.
“To me this is a huge thing. We say ‘Go home. Go home. Gohome.’ But what if you don’t have a home right? What if the home youhave is like not a healthy place to be either socially or physicallyhealthy place to be? Then you’re kind of up the creek without a paddle” she said. “I think with just the ease with which we say ‘Go home. Gohome. Go home’ as if everybody has one. When we know everybody doesn’thave one … to me there is that irony. It just doesn’t feel like theright time to kind of go all preachy about that because everyone is sopreoccupied with other things.”
She was in favour of people sleeping in cars for the fundraiser as long as it was abiding by the coronavirus safety protocols.
Switzer who has volunteered to work with high school students said there are a lot of youth who are “couch hopping” and need places to go and thingsto do. She wishes there were more affordable accommodations available.
In speaking with people she said there are some women who stay in abusive relationships to “have a roof over their heads. That’s not good butwhere else are they going to go? What else can they afford?”
Shewishes people unfamiliar with what challenges youth face whether it’s a home life that isn’t stable due to a lack of finances or abuse theyface would open their eyes.
“Maybe we don’t see the stuff like wesee in Toronto where there’s sleeping bags on the side of the road butwho’s to say that isn’t happening in some places. Maybe we don’t knowtoo much about it all?” she said.
If interested in donating see www.placesforpeople.ca .