By Rebecca Fitzsimmons
A car is just supposed to get you from point A to point B. It’s not a residence. Unfortunately a car becomes ‘home’ for an increasing number of single parent families in Halton. Home Suite Hope (HSH), an Oakville-based community organization aiming to end homelessness in Halton Region, wants you to Sleep In Your Car…just for one night.
On September 23, people from across Halton and the GTA will occupy the parking lot at the YMCA of Oakville to sleep in their cars as a fundraiser for HSH. “Sleep In Your Car is a new event,” Michelle Pommells, president and CEO of Home Suite Hope explains. “The concept is one that helps residents gain an appreciation for what it might be like to be a homeless parent having to live in their vehicle.”
An increasing number of families are living this way. “’Invisible homelessness’ has a lot of shame associated with being in such a situation and you’re trying to achieve some sort of normalcy in a situation that is anything but normal,” she says. Friends and family are tasked to raise $1,000 per car, and the more people per car, the merrier. In fact, a vehicle with more occupants may convey the severity of the situation parents face when they bed down for the night in cramped quarters with their children.
The event is an experiential fundraiser in the form of a challenge rather than a dainty sit-down affair. “Sleeping overnight in a vehicle does have a certain discomfort associated with it but having said that we want it to be doable for people and memorable.” Pommells is hopeful people will return for the event again next year. Sleep In Your Car will raise awareness about the need of some families within the community, it shows staff from HSH, sponsors and community members are willing to invest themselves in assisting families.
Pommells wants the Halton community to realize that while homelessness is a very complex issue, help is available – and the help provided works. “We do know the issue is growing for a number of different reasons,” Pommells explains. “One reason is the very challenging housing market which is putting affordable housing out of reach of more and more families.”
“With the right means of support you can help people break free of this cycle.” HSH is extremely proud of a recent milestone: seven moms recently graduated from college or university and now they’re on the path that will change their economic reality. One mother graduated from Sheridan College and is now working as an accountant. “Her future has been completely transformed since she graduated last summer,” she states.
Home Suite Hope’s traditional fundraiser, Empty Bowls, will be deferred until 2018. “We’re hoping that the folks who have come out and supported Empty Bowls will rally behind Sleep In Your Car.” Instead of what people would have paid for an empty bowls ticket, Pommells is asking her loyal supporters to donate that same ticket price to the event in September.
As an organization, its combined goal is to advocate, as well as dispel, some of the myths of homelessness in the region. In fact, Pommells defies anyone to make ends meet with limited resources while juggling parental responsibilities. “They have aspirations and dreams that they want to fulfill, but to do that as a single parent who may not have a lot of support, or any, to help them achieve their goals to better support their children, it becomes a vicious cycle,” she explains. It’s also hugely unsettling. How could someone survive with the absence of support from friends or family while bills and expenses are mounting? “To hold down a job when they’re trying their best to be a good parent alone, it becomes a demoralizing circle,” Pommells says.
Nobody can get out of quicksand alone. You need the extension of a helping hand, whether it’s a hand or throwing a rope to help parents pull themselves out. That is what HSH does as an organization. “We don’t do the work. The parents do the work but we provide the lifeline through what we do, and through our social workers and community partners, to help families invest their energy to gain a future,” reiterates Pommells. “We help parents who are motivated to do the heavy lifting to create a future for themselves and their children. It’s remarkable when we see the transformations that occur. It’s just magic.”