I’m home. I have food, shelter, clothing, and lots of love and support in my life. Last night was really challenging. It was very cold. I could stay warm only while moving. Walking around all night is not easy. My right achilles was sore from friction in my boot and it only got worse as the night went on but if I stopped, I was cold. There really is nowhere to go in Stouffville. Everything is closed. Parks are windy and exposed, alleyways don’t feel safe or clean, and the rest of town is houses.
I couldn’t really hunker down on someone’s porch or in someone’s shed. That would be trespassing. The Go Train shelter was really the only spot I found where I could stop and stay awhile though I can’t say I found it comforting and peaceful. Bright lights, cigarette butts, and trash is strewn about.
A maintenance person came by for salting, a special constable came by just doing their rounds, and police vehicles seemed to be the only other vehicles on the road, driving around and around, everywhere I walked. I did not get stopped but I felt uneasy that I might. I felt scared and sort of guilty like I was doing something wrong. I was just trying to stay warm and get through the night. I was tired but there’s no way I could relax enough or get comfortable to fall asleep. I just wanted the night to hurry up and pass. I realized after the fact that it was the zipper on my insulated pants that was causing me discomfort in my boot (not my boots themselves) and if I made an adjustment, I might have been more comfortable but when I was cold and tired and feeling vulnerable, I wasn’t thinking clearly and so I continued to struggle, my walk turning into a bit of a limp.
As luck would have it, I also got my period last night and was not prepared for that. I walked to a Tim Hortons. The sign on the door said brewing 24-hours, but the door was locked. It was not open. I’m sure this is due to Covid-19 but homeless youth are homeless in and out of a pandemic – that doesn’t change. I was looking forward to passing some of the time in a warm place, getting a warm drink into me, and using the washroom. None of that was possible. Stouffville is a small town, and so there were little to no options.
I think the only place that was actually open was a gas station. Not really somewhere I could go to pass time. And so I walked. I found a hidden place to go to the washroom in some trees around a storm water management pond. As soon as I came out back to the sidewalk, a police car happened to be driving by. I froze. I thought I was going to get in trouble – I was caught. They drove past. These are feelings kids have on a daily I’m sure.
I was somewhat surprised at how many times I saw police vehicles driving around. I guess that’s what they do on a quiet night – drive around and just be aware of what is or isn’t happening in town. As a result of deep-seeded thoughts and emotions and because I was doing something I don’t normally do, I was nervous when I saw police cars passing me. I didn’t want to get stopped or questioned. I was scared. I didn’t know what they would say to me and I thought they might assume I was up to no good. I avoided them and tried to make myself invisible. Maybe they would’ve asked me if I was okay. They didn’t. Thinking back on the night I missed an opportunity and I’m disappointed that I did.
Looking back, I wish I did speak to them. I wish I had asked them about where a homeless youth would go – where could they go? What could they do? What would the police have to suggest – what would they say to me? I wish I didn’t let my fears get the best of me and found out more info. After all, I was participating in this 360°experience to learn more about homeless and at-risk youth and to spread awareness and raise funds for 360°kids. I think if I was not caught up in my own feelings, I could’ve done more. I think if I was with a partner, things would’ve been different. I was out of my element, feeling vulnerable, cold, tired, and sore. All things that change thought processes and perception of certain situations. Instead of being a ‘researcher’ for the night I think I was role-playing a little too much!
It’s pretty amazing what comes from experiences like this. It has turned out to be a therapy and self-realization session for me. I did something that so many people thought was being brave. I came out of it battling with myself, feeling disappointed – not being good enough. Sure, I stayed outside on a cold winter night but I feel like I didn’t really do my job or that I could’ve done so much more. I got caught up in getting through the inconvenience of being outside and missed a real opportunity to dig deeper and get answers so I could better inform the people backing me. I guess 360°kids already know what the answers are. There simply aren’t enough resources and services to support youth.
I had a lot of support from friends near and far and my fundraising efforts far exceeded my goal. So I did accomplish what I set out to do. My focus should be on that. I have had many friends reach out to ask me more about 360°kids today. The more people that know, the better. I’m learning more and I will continue to do so and share. I am actively participating. Thank you 360°kids for giving me this learning opportunity.
**Personal essay and photos provided by At-Home 360°Experience participant Janet Mott**