A day's walk and a life on my back
September 06, 2018
With my backpack tight and my walking shoes on…
During EXIT Community Outreach’s transition to its new home in Inglewood, the EXIT team has been on the streets talking with homeless and at-risk youth. Street outreach could mean many things, depending on who you ask. It could mean handing out sandwiches or coffee. It could mean speaking about available resources or providing water on a hot day. It could mean, simply, giving somebody a hug and providing a listening ear – a brief escape from the daunting reality of life on the streets. For EXIT, street outreach embodies all of these things.
When our team found out that we would be experiencing a transition period where we would not have a home ‘base,’ a plan for street outreach was created. We knew we needed to somehow keep our connections with our youth and continue to provide basic needs – minimalizing the risk of already entrenched youth falling further into despair. For many of our youth, EXIT Outreach staff are their main – and sometimes only – support system. That being said, we knew that it was vital that our team maintain that support system while in this crucial transition period. So, we began our street outreach on May 28, 2018.
Our first day of street outreach was extremely hot. We handed out countless bottles of water, socks and sandwiches. Our youth were so excited to see us out on the streets – or, as they would say, on their ‘turf.’ Many of them expressed sadness about our old building closing, but also said they were grateful that, for the time being, we would be in various locations throughout downtown. Hugs were exchanged, words were shared, water bottles were given, sandwiches were eaten and relationships were created.
As a team, we experienced some key components of the reality of living on the streets. For some, walking is a means of transportation, and for others, a means of exercise and enjoyment. For our clients, walking is more often than not their only means of transportation. Not having money for transit passes leaves them with only one option – to use their feet. Our clients had previously told us how much they walk in a day and, of course, we thought it was a jaw-dropping distance; however, it wasn’t until we experienced it ourselves that it became even more shocking. During the last few days of outreach, we walked through Calgary’s downtown, the community of Inglewood and 17th Avenue SW. Honestly, it was probably the most walking we’ve ever done! 87,623 steps (66.8 kms) between all four of us, to be exact. The pain in your feet at the end of the day and the dull ache in your back gives you a small dose of what our youth endure daily.
In addition, we carried heavy backpacks full with water and essential supplies. Carrying these backpacks also gave us a small taste of what our clients endure – and they really do carry their lives on their backs. Other small things like finding a public washroom to use (many businesses only allow paying customers to use their facilities) and the hardships of extreme temperatures were also noticed. Small factors such as these made us more aware of the prominent challenges our clients face and the hurdles they must overcome.
Street outreach has truly been an eye-opening experience. Not only have we been able to connect with clients, but we’ve been able to walk in their shoes (or so to speak). And, as a team, we’ve been able to step outside our regular daily routine and step into a somewhat unknown territory, reaching out to those who need us the most.