By Jon Perez, Catholic Saskatoon News
With the weather getting colder, Cameron Choquette of Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon is among those in the community who are concerned about homeless people in the city, who are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions — either heat during the summer months or freezing temperatures in the winter months.
Earlier this year, Choquette participated in the 36-hour Sanctum Survivor Challenge, which provides community leaders with an experience of homelessness, while raising awareness of the issues and funds for Sanctum, a local hospice with respite and supportive care for people living with HIV/AIDS who face high-risk conditions, including homelessness.
Choquette, who serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Saskatchewan Landlord Association and volunteers on Holy Spirit Parish Pastoral Council, joined nine other community leaders, including Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and Saskatoon-Riverside MLA Marv Friesen who were sent off in pairs in donated clothes and without money, to navigate homelessness for 36 hours.
Other participants tackling a list of tasks during the May 2023 challenge were Saskatchewan Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Fatima Coovadia, Saskatoon Police Service Staff Sargeant Tonya Gresty, Saskatchewan Realtors Association Chief Executive Officer Guerette, Affinity Credit Union Chief Financial Officer Nilesh Kavia, University of Saskatchewan General Internal Medicine Assistant Professor Dr. Benjamin Leis, and Trusted Marketing entrepreneur Sara Wheelwright.
Choquette described his Sanctum Survivor Challenge as an enlightening experience after working in the housing sector for four years. To be in the shoes of a homeless person, even for 36 hours, was an eye-opener and gave a better understanding of the challenges faced by people living on the streets, who must survive trying to find shelter during extreme weather conditions and search for food daily.
“I have heard stories about homelessness and speak to our members about homelessness regularly. But, being homeless for 36 hours flipped my understanding on my head and got me thinking about the intricacies of the barriers we faced in those 36 hours. How difficult those barriers become for chronically or episodically homeless,” said Choquette.
“Whether it was getting an ID, filling out a housing application, and finding transportation so we don’t have to walk much – all those things become difficult for me, an affluent and privileged person. It was difficult to imagine how someone with trauma could undertake the daily challenges of finding housing or getting income assistance. It was a powerful experience for me, and it is something that I am still thinking about a lot.”
He believes more can be done to help organizations that provide services to homeless people either through monetary donations or conducting food drives like some churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon are doing, where non-perishable food items are collected and given to families in need through the Food Bank or other emergency pantries.
“Homeless people require assistance from any number of organizations. The [Catholic] church in Saskatoon, the diocese, supports the homeless directly or indirectly through partnerships with the parishes. Parishes or the diocese can work with community-based organizations to provide the three basic things they need: time, talent and treasure. Either volunteering by lending your talent and experience to an organization or donating money. A lot can be done to help organizations that assist homeless people,” said Choquette.
“The Friendship Inn, which needs daily volunteers to help serve meals, the Food Bank, and the [Catholic Women’s League] clothing depot… The list goes on, and the list goes on in terms of organizations that need our support,” he added.
“A great example is Holy Spirit Parish’s work helping provide food for St. Mary’s Christmas hampers or their (emergency) fridge throughout the year. These should become regular for parishes with congregations willing to support these causes.”
As part of ongoing awareness work, Choquette continues to address the issue with others. “I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with two Christian Ethics classes at Holy Cross High School about my experience and am willing to speak on the experience to other interested groups.”
A parishioner at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, Jonathan Perez is also a news reporter for Sask Today.