With an estimated 10,000 youth struggling to find stable housing in the city, some of Toronto’s top business leaders are stepping up to raise funds and awareness for the cause.
Nearly 50 executives and other movers and shakers will spend Thursday, Nov. 15 night sleeping out in the cold, protected by only a sleeping bag for warmth and a piece of cardboard on which to lay.
They will sleep on the street in downtown Toronto as part of the Covenant House Sleep Out: Executive Edition.
“The event was launched last year in New York and now we’re bringing it to Toronto,” said Covenant House spokesperson Tiffany MacDonald. “We’re going to have something similar going on at 12 different Covenant Houses on the same night.”
Participants in the Toronto event will include Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke, Venture Communications CEO and Dragon’s Den star Arlene Dickinson, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
The participants will get a glimpse into what life is like for young men and women for whom sleeping on the street is a daily reality. Of course, even those who spend the night in the cold will do so knowing they have a warm house to return to, access to good food and a strong support system.
“There’s no way they’re ever going to know what (homeless and underhoused) kids go through,” MacDonald said. “They’re giving up one good night’s sleep. Every day for (homeless and underhoused) kids starts with them not having something to eat, somewhere to sleep, somewhere to be safe.”
MacDonald added there is no broad brush stroke definition as to which kids wind up homeless or underhoused. Covenant House provides much-needed shelter and a variety of supports to youth from all demographics, many of whom have been forced out of their homes due to abuse or neglect.
Wong-Tam said she hopes the Sleep Out opens the eyes of participants to what it’s like having to deal with the elements and other aspects of street life.
“When you’re in a sleeping bag for 10 or 12 hours, you experience not just the weather elements but also elements of street life and how you’re put into harm’s way,” she said. “Those of us who get to get up at 6 a.m. (after the Sleep Out) and go home to a nice house and warm shower, that’s not the reality for thousands of people.”
Wong-Tam speaks from experience, having spent time living on the streets, couch-surfing and bouncing from place to place as a youth.
“For me, it’ll be a reminder of what it’s like, though for a lot of people it will be their first time learning what life is like on the street,” she said. “I suspect it will open some eyes to a whole new range of activities that take place.”
For its inaugural Sleep Out event, Toronto’s Covenant House was aiming to find 25 participants and bring in $300,000 in pledges. So far, it was easily surpassed the first of those goals, with 49 sleepers participating and raising upward of $250,000 to date.
Given that the shelter receives some 80 per cent of its annual funding through donations, it hopes the momentum for the event keeps building.
To make a donation to the Covenant House Sleep Out: Executive Edition, visit www.covenanthouse.ca