Project raises awareness of youth homelessness
A group of youth has taken to the streets to bring attention to youth homelessness. The group is living on the streets for 120 hours. The group includes social workers, support workers and students. From left to right are Matthew Nippard, Sarah O’Brien, Noel Joe and Blair Trainor. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
At 7 a.m. Wednesday a handful of young people with knapsacks on their backs and hoods tied tightly under their chins made their way up Duckworth Street in St. John’s having spent their second night on the street.
The youth are among 10 social workers, child and youth care workers and students from both fields who have committed to living “homeless” for five days (120 hours) during an awareness campaign dubbed Sleep Out 120.
When darkness falls, Blair Trainor and the other youth find a nook or cranny, a space under a bridge, an alley, anywhere out of the public’s view — to hide for the night.
“You scope out these places. That’s what homeless people do,” he said, sitting on the steps of Mile One Centre, his knapsack still strapped to his back.
Once they’ve decided where they’ll rest, they take their sleeping bag from their knapsack, spread it on the ground and try to sleep for a few hours.
Seagulls have been their alarm clock in the morning, Trainor said.
The weather is as unpredictable as the circumstances they find themselves in.
Monday night was colder than Tuesday night.
“It’s supposed to snow tomorrow,” Trainor said, a worried look crossing his face.
During the day the youth are involved in outreach programs in the community.
Those with jobs must keep their commitment to their employer but must return to the streets after work.
The youth depend on donations of food from the public.
They went about 10 hours without eating Tuesday, Trainor said.
“We don’t choose our time to eat and that’s the way it is when you are homeless.”
Keeping a journal
The youth are keeping a journal of their experiences.
Trainor said the most challenging part of the campaign thus far has been being ignored by passersby.
“That’s what hurts.”
Trainor is from St. John’s. He is a support worker at Emmanuel House in St. John’s — a residential home for men and women who are dealing with various problems in their lives.
“You scope out these places. That’s what homeless people do." Blair Trainor
Trainor and a friend created Sleep Out 120 in 2010 after Trainor received numerous calls at Emmanuel House from people looking for a place to stay.
Trainor would provide them with contact information for local shelters. Oftentimes, the shelters were already full.
“Now through my Sleep Out 120 experience I can offer them safe places to go downtown or up by Memorial University.
“But it’s pretty sad when you’ve got to prepare people to sleep on the streets. That should never happen,” Trainor said.
Funds raised during the campaign — through pledges, corporate sponsors and donation booths — will go to Choices for Youth in St. John’s to help with programs geared towards youth homelessness.
According to Choices for Youth there are about 1,200 homeless people in St. John’s. An additional 10,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless.
Erin Molloy is co-ordinator of organizational development with Choices for Youth.
Homelessness affects every facet of people’s lives, she said..
“If you don’t have a place to call home, how can you get up in the morning and concentrate on getting a job or going back to school?”
Noel Joe is from Conne River. He is a community outreach worker with the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre.
Participating in the campaign has been an eye-opener, he said, sitting next to the other youth on the steps of Mile One Centre.
“The first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning was am I really doing this?... But doing this gives you a real feeling of being out and not being able to go home. It really touches the heart,” he said.
For more information on Sleep Out 120 or to donate to the cause visit www.choicesforyouth.ca.