A few years ago our Leadership Council Co-Chair Eric Jordan (Sei-in Remy Jordan) organized a Street Retreat on the streets of downtown Victoria. We thought it would be interesting to share his experience – just a small glimpse into the experience of homelessness.
What is a Street Retreat?
A group of individuals live on the street for 4 days and 3 nights. You’re only allowed to take a few items: the clothes on your back, one piece of photo ID, bus fare home, a small backpack, a rain poncho, a water bottle, a blanket and a small plastic sheet to sleep on. The retreat has a few rules: sleep outside (not in shelters), no drugs or alcohol, stay together as a group or with a buddy, always tell the truth (if asked, talk about the street retreat). Each person pays a minimum of $400 to attend, raised by donation. Part of the money is donated to service providers to off-set the cost of some of the resources used by the participants.
Highlights from Eric’s Experience
Around 7 pm, we walked into town in a light rain. We first went to the Pandora Centre as our list of food services indicated that they served coffee, food and muffins from 7-9pm. However, they were closed and the doors were locked. We asked a few folks who looked like they might have some suggestions. They did not think there was any place open which would serve us a meal.
Normally, I am a vegetarian. However, I had learned last year to gratefully accept whatever food I was offered during this retreat experience. After eating, we all settled down to sleep. The rain was now really coming down and making quite the sound on the roof above us. It was freezing. I had a blanket and I had cardboard, but I was still really cold.
We walked into town to try our luck at breakfast at the 9-10 Club which serves food from 8-10am…I had a muffin and it was just awful.
I saw someone that I knew from my time as a student at UVic. We were never very close friends, but we would always smile at each other. He saw me sitting on the pavement and smiled at me, as he always had. Then he realized what I was doing and a look of shock and horror crossed his face. He quickly looked away and walked rapidly past me.
We decided that instead of getting lunch at 11:30am (Streetlink) or noon (Salvation Army), we would eat the early dinner (3:30 pm.) at Streetlink and the check out the Hot Dog Night at the Mustard Seed Church (at 7:30pm). We arrived at Streetlink at about 3:20pm and all the tickets for the 3:30pm dinner were gone. We also learned that Mustard Seed was not having a Hot Dog Night because of the long weekend – it was looking like no lunch and no dinner for us!
That night four of us stuffed our clothes with Gay Pride newspaper (for warmth). We looked like cartoon superheroes with all of the stuffing. I slept okay that night, but not great.
(Post-retreat) I noticed how much I enjoyed having a choice of food. On the street, I ate what I was given with little choice. In the shelters, you got a plate of food and that is what you ate. It was so nice to have choices again about what I wanted to eat. I found myself having a little bit of lots of different foods.
Read Eric’s full experience: My Experiences on the Victoria Street Retreat 2008