Perspectives on going through homelessness during intense cold

Facing the cold: William “Will” Crouse in Calgary, on Jan. 27. Crouse has been experiencing homelessness for two years. (Photo by Kaley Ramage/The Press)

Canada is known for our cold, and everyday citizens can usually be affected by a cold snap, but for those who don’t have a home times of extreme cold can be even harder to get through.

Ken Dean was one of those people. Dean was homeless for four years.

He fell into homelessness when the 2008 recession hit and he lost his job. Soon after, he found himself on the streets. Those few winters he lived through were some of the worst Alberta has had, and Dean had limited ways of staying warm during those times.

“When I was homeless, I was able to find a garage with an attic that I’d sleep in,” said Dean. “I was lucky enough to have been able to grab a winter sleeping bag from my house before I was evicted, along with some winter clothes.”

Dean recalls on the coldest days he would stay wrapped up in his sleeping bag all day, unable to move around a lot, warming himself with nothing but the hot air from his mouth.

When Dean would go and walk around the city during warmer winter days, his arthritis would kick in to an all-time high. With nowhere to go he had no choice but to walk around the city; movement was sometimes the only option to keep himself warm.

“After that period of my life, when the cold hits I can hardly even move,” said Dean. “My hands, and whole body frankly, take about an hour to warm up and function again properly.”

Thankfully, Dean was able to come out of homelessness in 2012 through the help of government programs.

Joyce Barnett has a family member who is currently experiencing homelessness. During times of extreme cold she worries about this family member the most.

“I check the weather often, not because of myself anymore, but for him,” said Barnett. “I worry in all weather conditions, from extreme cold to heat. I worry that the weather will really affect his health.”

Barnett has been able to cope with the situation more over time, but it’s still very hard. Knowing that her family member knows how to survive, the biggest stress for Barnett is thinking about him not meeting his basic human needs.

“I have offered all the help I can,” said Barnett. “But, he is content with the way his life is right now, so I just let him know I am always there for him.”

Homelessness can affect deeper than many might know. Luckily Calgary has many organizations that offer amazing services of all kinds to help those in these hard situations.

“I worry in all weather conditions, from extreme cold to heat. I worry that the weather will really affect his health.” – Joyce Barnett

Politician Jeremy Nixon is an MLA for the Calgary-Klein area. Before he was born, his father experienced homelessness from the age of 12 to 18. Nixon does a lot of work for the Mustard Seed and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, which specifically deals with youth homelessness.

“I always think about how scary it would have been to be so young and have to fend for yourself,” said Nixon. “That’s why I do a lot of work with homeless youth, because I’m able to put myself in their shoes.”

If you know someone experiencing homelessness, do not hesitate to reach out to the Calgary Drop-In Centre or the Mustard Seed, as they offer many programs to help those in need. Calgary Homeless Foundation also offers a detailed list of resources.