The YWCA provides shelter for up to 50 women in our former gymansium as part of our Winter Emergency Response Program.On May 1st, YWCA KEEP A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS® participant Pat Walsh will line up outside the YWCA to guarantee a place to sleep in our former gymnasium, which has been converted to an emergency shelter.

For many women in Calgary, this process is a familiar one as the YWCA Winter Emergency Response program is one of the few places they can stay during the cold winter months.

Our clients often have to line up early to ensure they have a safe place to spend the night. They don’t have anything but the clothes on their backs. They spend the night on a cot on a painted cement floor with up to 50 other women; many of who are no stranger to homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges.

Pat can relate to many of our clients. Over a decade ago Pat struggled with the uncertainty of a safe night’s sleep.

At first glance, Pat appears to have led an idyllic life. He grew up the youngest of four siblings, graduated from the University of Calgary, and after four years working for Parliament in Ottawa, settled in Calgary where he spent several years working in the oil and gas sector before founding his own company. However, behind the scenes Pat was struggling with addiction. Pat’s story is one that demonstrates how pervasive homelessness and addiction is – it can happen to anyone.

We spoke to Pat about what inspired him to participate in YWCA KEEP A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS®:

Tell us more about your story.

I was always known as a “party guy” but it wasn’t until my mid-to-late 30s that I began to realize that alcohol was playing a far bigger role in my life. Alcohol took a hostile takeover of my life and everything that I held dear. In September 2001 I stood up in a meeting for the first time and uttered the words ‘My name is Pat and I am an alcoholic.’ Thus began the single greatest challenge that I have ever faced physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

What inspired you to participate in YWCA KEEP A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS®?

My personal struggle with alcoholism took me to depths that I had never even known existed. This included unemployment, treatment centers, detox, therapists, complete isolation from the world and ultimately several trips to the hospital, the last time being almost four years ago where I was in sepsis; my liver, pancreas and other key systems were shutting down. My mind had already checked out long before this point.

Why do you think homelessness, and particularly women’s homelessness, is an important issue?

It is much more difficult for the vast majority of women to get clean and sober when they have children, are being victimized and involved in abusive relationships and have no place to go. Many live in a state of fear, shame and have lost trust that simply cannot be addressed without separating them from those that are of the greatest threat to them.

Do you think there is a stigma surrounding homelessness?

Yes, there remains a stigma towards people that suffer addiction in any form. Many see it as a weakness or call it a lack of willpower or an excuse to justify their erratic behavior or unreliability. Most people drive over the overpass in their cars not knowing that beneath them are the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers of people – many of whom were just like them. Homelessness is not a conscious choice. Many are simply sick people that are trying to get well.

What would you say to anyone who is thinking about participating in YWCA KEEP A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS?

Nothing is black-and-white when it comes to homelessness, addiction or mental illness and the best way for anyone to truly help and above all gain an appreciation for the magnitude and scope of the problem is to see it first-hand. I guarantee it will change your perspective not only on homelessness but on your own life.

Don’t miss out on this unique experience to see one night in her eyes, sign up today for YWCA KEEP A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS® to show your support for vulnerable women.