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Catholic Vancouver March 20, 2018

Volunteers learn empathy during St. Mary’s Sleep Out

By Chandra Philip

St. Mary's Street Ministry coordinator Mildred Moy, with Sarah-Anne Mitchell and her partner James with their children. (Chandra Philip photos)

Special to The B.C. Catholic

Volunteers at the St. Mary’s Sleep Out event to battle homelessness got a small taste of what life on the streets is like over the weekend.

But it was not quite the same as the real thing.

“It definitely is amazing what they are doing out there, but it is very, very different from being on the streets,” Sarah-Anne Mitchell said.

Mitchell spoke to the volunteers prior to the event about her 12 years on the street.

“It is scary and to live in fear every single night; not knowing if you are going to wake up alive in the morning is tough.

“On the streets, you don’t have anybody because everybody is out to get you or rob you or try and benefit something from you.”

Mitchell said meeting Mildred Moy, the heart behind the event, helped her find a different way of life.

“She has been there every step of the way for the last 12 years.”

Moy, who has been involved in St. Mary’s Street Ministry for 14 years, said the ministry gave her a way to reach others for God.

“These street people, they are suffering. They know that they cannot get off their addiction. They need help. So they are at a place where they can receive God,” she explained.

“It is actually easier to bring God into their lives rather than the richer people who are doing well.”

This was the second Sleep Out event for Moy and the ministry, which partnered with Catholic Street Missionaries this year.

“We will never really experience homelessness,” she said referring to the bodyguards watching over them.

“But at least we can experience just a tiny little bit. Just the coldness and the hardness of the pavement.”

Cardboard boxes become beds for the night at Sleep Out.

For the over 20 volunteers who participated in the fundraising event, it was more than just the cold that humbled them.

“You are sleeping on concrete and it is very hard to sleep on,” Nicole Fredrickson said.

“You are out here on your own. It feels lonely and you don’t have the comforts of your own home and your bed and knowing that you are in a safe place.”

“It felt so long,” Sarah Canete said of the night on the street.

“It made me think that I am blessed to have a bed and a roof over my head, because I cannot imagine doing this every day for God knows how long. It is very humbling.”

For Will Legaspi, who has been homeless before, this was still a new experience.

“Since it is a controlled setting I didn’t have to worry about my personal safety.”

Father Michael Rosinski, SJ, from St. Mark’s Parish said he has learned that the night can be full of unexpected surprises.

 “I had a little squirrel come up and try and get in my sleeping bag. That was about as exciting as it got,” he said.

Yet, he was grateful for the experience and what he learned.

“To live with that kind of uncertainty night after night after night, you are exposed, and to learn to live with that …”

Mitchell said she as born to addicted parents and felt that was her destiny.

“I used to blame God because I was on the streets and living this life. Now I think about it and I realize that he was actually with me every step of the way and that is the reason I am alive today,” Mitchell said through tears.

“Today I have an amazing family and I work with the homelessness and people on the Downtown East Side. It is a tragedy to see how many homeless people that are out there. It is an epidemic, it really is.

“People would be surprised at how many are truly homeless.”

According to regional figures, in 2017, there were over 3,600 people experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver, a 30-per-cent increase since 2014. (http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/homelessness/HomelessnessPublications/2017MetroVancouverHomelessCount.pdf)

Moy said her calling has changed her life.

“We want to journey with those who want to change their lives,” she said.

Catholic Street Missionaries has recently started a one-year program for young people to help them gain an understanding of what lay missionary work is really like. For more information visit their website: http://www.catholicstreetmissionaries.org/one-challenge