A video still shot by Bob Pierce shows Carmen Perret-Smith, left, and Tiffany Butler taking turns panhandling last Friday night in downtown Brandon. The pair were part of a Westman Youth for Christ team that volunteered to be homeless for a night to help raise funds for U-Turn programming. (SUBMITTED)
Equipped with only a wool blanket and a jacket, Carmen Perret-Smith took to the streets recently to get a taste of what it’s like to be homeless in Brandon.
In an effort to raise money for Westman Youth For Christ’s U-Turn housing programs, Perret-Smith was among 12 other U-Turn staff and community members who volunteered to sleep on the streets last Friday night.
The majority of the group was split into pairs and each team was given a different challenge. Perret-Smith, for example, was tasked with carrying crutches. She and her teammate also had to make it to nine checkpoints, which consisted of different local agencies the homeless often frequent for help.
"Most of it was downtown so it was a little uncomfortable making sure we were safe," Perret-Smith said. "Typically I wouldn’t be downtown in Brandon after dark ... I would be at home."
Perret-Smith has been a Westman YFC U-Turn life skills coach for almost a year and although she has lived in the Wheat City for more than six years, she admits the streets "didn’t always feel safe."
"Brandon looks really different on a warm Friday night from street level," she said. "It really highlighted to me, even though we were watching and looking for those safe places, we were really inexperienced."
Since they weren’t allowed to carry a cellphone or any money, Perret-Smith said they managed to gather $7.25 panhandling with help from a sign they made.
"It’s amazing how different it feels just to have a little bit of emergency money in your pocket," she said. "We were almost giddy when were got the money because it was almost like we have a backup plan if we’re really hungry or really thirsty."
Westman YFC operations liaison Jennifer Swennen told the Sun via email that the organization’s first-ever sleep on the streets fundraiser has so far raised $1,311.70 in pledges, which will go toward
rent supplement, groceries and life skills training.
Reflecting on her experience, Perret-Smith said she found it "emotional" learning more about what the homeless go through on a daily basis. It also highlighted just how valuable housing programs like U-Turn are in the Brandon community, she said.
"If you’re on the street, how do you get your foot on the ground and change your life? Where do you find a place to get clean and go to a job interview?" she said. "That’s exactly what we’re trying to do."
Executive director Dwayne Dyck said Westman YFC continues to look for gaps in the community, which is why housing makes up half of its programming.
Dyck added that YFC’s newest housing complex at 139 Fifth St. should be move-in ready early next month. He said the organization has already started taking applications and is positive it will "fill up pretty quick."
The newest complex will house eight teens and young adults aged 19 and over who are either self-enrolled in a support program, wanting to go or already attending school, or actively seeking employment.
The eight-plex is the organization’s fourth building but third U-Turn temporary housing complex since two of the other complexes are joined together on Rosser Avenue.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 27, 2014