Street sleep a wakeup call

Danette Dooley
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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.

 

telegram@thetelegram.com

danette@nl.rogers.com

 

Organizations: Emmanuel House

Geographic location: Duckworth Street, Conne River

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Recent comments

  • Leigh C
    April 29, 2011 - 11:51

    I am actually quite shocked by some of these comments to this article and yet I sit here and wonder why that is. It seems to me that that the most important point that is forgotten here is that the homeless are actually people; like you and me. They have blood that runs through their veins, like we all do. They are brothers, sisters, moms, dads, and grandparents to someone. Some people have commented that “remaining homeless is a choice”. I ask if given the choice, who would choose to be cold, hungry, and alone and to be looked down on by people walking by? Who would choose a harder life? I think the biggest piece of the puzzle that is missing is that some of these people do have challenges. Whether it be addictions, mental health challenges, learning disabilities, or a history of abuse. Of course these are just the few of the issues that are out there, but they are out there. It seems that because these issues are not visible scars that they do not exist. However, the scars that are NOT seen are the ones that remain the longest. What a wonderful Province we would be if we pooled all our energy and put it into action in our communities. What a wonderful community we would be if we actually took the time and stopped and had a conversation with someone who is homeless. Sometimes that is all they want. I hope that you remember my comments the next time you choose to put your head down and walk by someone you know is homeless and I hope that you stop and ask yourself, “Why am I putting my head down?”

    • Leigh C
      April 29, 2011 - 13:03

      If you don’t have the means to give food or warm clothing, then what about time? There are many organizations around town that are looking for volunteers. Imagine what a wonderful Province we would be if we pooled all our energy together and showed a bit of compassion for others.

  • A
    April 29, 2011 - 06:54

    I saw this group of tools downtown the other day. Want to help these homeless people? How about instead of pretending to understand their situation, give them those very expensive sleeping bags, winter coats, pants, and boots you're all sporting. I'm sure these people who spend every night on the street would appreciate the warmth and comfort provided by those moreso than the ego boost you gain from getting your faces in the telegram.

    • Kate
      April 29, 2011 - 10:32

      Wow! I think this is a nice way to help. If you don't have the means to help them all, do what you can to help a little. No matter how expensive your sleeping bag is or what kind of clothes you can afford to wear, at least these 'TOOLS' are out there trying to help. I can say that they are braver than I. Hats off to you people!!

    • Leigh C
      April 30, 2011 - 16:15

      Compassion doesn't cost anything....but having a heart!

  • Mindy
    April 28, 2011 - 13:57

    Issac Dawe...good points made. Yes we all work hard and some even have two jobs just to get by. Some live with three and four others in a small apartment just to pay the rent. They have a blow up mattress on the floor and a micro wave to have a heated meal. We work two jobs and by no means have we got extras. I'm sorry but not all of them need to be out there, some make that choice. Yes, the salavation army would give them an outift for an interview and then they might just get the job and the employer just might provide a uniform. If you can ask for spare change you can very well ask :"Do You want Fries with that". Some do need the help but others make life on the srteet their choice!!

  • mary
    April 28, 2011 - 13:49

    A lot of stereotypical comments to be read here. How many of you have actually sat down and spoken with a homeless person, have actually gotten to know a homeless person? Did some of you read the whole story - these particular people went 10 hours without food and that is in their short time of being homeless. If they were truly homeless and on the street for longer, then, they would be going longer without food and would not have a lot of choices once food was available. Try going without food for 10 hours a few days this week and don't eat much in between those 10 hours. See how you feel. While you are at it grab a sleeping bag and go sleep in your back yard - no heat, no bbq, nothing. Just huddle in your sleeping bag. Then, go to work ( don't take a shower).......

  • willy
    April 28, 2011 - 13:31

    I've noticed downtown that most of these bum's know how to play instrument's fairly good. I think it would make a cool band if they all got together and made a couple of songs. They'd make a fine dollar. I saw one guy down there playing pots and pans like a drum set, another playing guitar. All ya need is a good singer. A good name would be "The Bum's". A couple of cover songs like "Dirty old town". I should be there manager, Sky's the limit!

  • p a b in halifax
    April 28, 2011 - 12:26

    Let me give you an example of the street people up here. We have a guy that stands on the corner of Windsor & North not that you would know were that is but we offered him a full time job he laughted and turned us down flat without even asking what the pay was. So that why I don't support street people anymore. Some say they make good money from me and you.

  • Dave
    April 28, 2011 - 12:06

    Waste of time!

  • Calvin
    April 28, 2011 - 10:20

    Same old story, people dont want to help themselves but no one else does either. As for saying these people dont have clothes nice enough to go job hunting in, I would be willing to bet my pay check this week that if they showed up at the Salvation Army and said I have a job interview but I look like a bum, they would have clothes nice enough to go for an interview at McDonalds. I would like to know where some of ths numbers are coming from in this story. 1200 homeless people in town, and 10 000 more could be homeless?! I dont think those figures are accurate. Seriously, of all the bums you see around town, take a few days and try to find them all, you will start seeing the same ones over and over again. 10 000 homeless people? Give me a break, those are drummed up numbers being used to try and get a point across. With that said, there are some people in poor situations who could use some help. But there are also people in the situation who are doing nothing to get out of it, when they absolutely could. I know someone personally who quit a crappy job to bum around downtown. It may have been a crappy job, but it provided a pay check and there is no excuse to give up a perfectly good job for no reason. Homelessness is a part of every society in the world, and no matter what we say or do, bottom line, it is going to continue to be a problem.

    • Ashley
      June 24, 2011 - 13:37

      Those numbers are straight from statistic Canada from 2008. Homelessness is not just what you see on the streets. Homelessness involve couch surfing as well. Which many people do in the city. The homeless issue in Newfoundland is far bigger than what you see. Its like an ice berg, what you see on the top of the water is only 10%. Homelessness is the ame sort of deal. 10,000 more are at risk of being homeless. For example, children in foster care, which has been acknowledged is a large number, once they hit 16 they have a right to leave if they so choose. Unfortunately a lot of programs only accept youth from ages 18 and up. So, what do they children do? There is a large diversity of homeless people in st. john's, just like anywhere else. It would be naive to believe that they are all lazy bums who choose that lifestyle. I've heard many personal narratives from individuals living on the street. I don't believe people are lazy, just unmotivated. And when you have no support system, no home to go to.. you can bet you'd be unmotivated as well. These people are doing things others don't. They're raising awareness and getting conversation going. They've choosen to do something about the issue instead of just reading the paper and going "oh, well thats too bad".

  • hey
    April 28, 2011 - 08:33

    Yes ok they prob can work but come on people if u seen some of these people come in to u looking for a job chances are u wouldnt hire them because the way they look if they dont look professional enough...maybe some try to find a job but people wont hire them because of the clothes they are wearing or because it dont look like they have had a shower in a couple days you should think about this too..and ya I work hard for my money too and sometimes its hard to get by but if someone walked up to me asked me if i had any change I would give it to them if I had it...Id give someone my last cent Ive done it

  • Issac Dawe
    April 28, 2011 - 07:35

    While I recognize that for most homelessness is not a choice, remaining homeless is! I work in the downtown sector and every day I go out for a walk I am asked by at least 5 people for spare change or some other sort of help. While I would love to be able to help each and every one of them, it is simply not in my means to do so. I work 9-5 monday to friday and barely get by, although I do have the luxery of Renting an apartment and drive around in a 12 year old car...even after being in school for the past 7 years. Anyways, the point I am trying to make here is that I have worked very hard to get where I am today and still barely get by...then I have several people ask me daily for money that I have to work for everyday! I'm sorry....but seriously, myself and others like me have no choice but to ignore and keep on walking! Secondly, I drive down kenmount road everyday on my way to work...and I can not count the number of help wanted ads I see posted in windows and on signs! The old saying goes..."You can not help someone who does not want to help themselves"! Seriously, go out...get a job, take some responsibility for your situation in life...then maybe the homeless numbers will drop, or just stay on the streets asking people for their hard earned money when half of them can barely afford basic basic basic living expenses themselves, and complain when they ignore you! Your choice!

  • Issac Dawe
    April 28, 2011 - 07:33

    While I recognize that for most homelessness is not a choice, remaining homeless is! I work in the downtown sector and every day I go out for a walk I am asked by at least 5 people for spare change or some other sort of help. While I would love to be able to help each and every one of them, it is simply not in my means to do so. I work 9-5 monday to friday and barely get by, although I do have the luxery of Renting an apartment and drive around in a 12 year old car...even after being in school for the past 7 years. Anyways, the point I am trying to make here is that I have worked very hard to get where I am today and still barely get by...then I have several people ask me daily for money that I have to work for everyday! I'm sorry....but seriously, myself and others like me have no choice but to ignore and keep on walking! Secondly, I drive down kenmount road everyday on my way to work...and I can not count the number of help wanted ads I see posted in windows and on signs! The old saying goes..."You can not help someone who does not want to help themselves"! Seriously, go out...get a job, take some responsibility for your situation in life...then maybe the homeless numbers will drop, or just stay on the streets asking people for their hard earned money when half of them can barely afford basic basic basic living expenses themselves, and complain when they ignore you! Your choice!

  • Marlene
    April 28, 2011 - 07:31

    You know it is great that these people are out experiencing first hand what it is like to be homeless. And if i seen any if those people and knew they were from this group i would gladly pass over cash or food because i would know what they will buy with it. But when you see on a daily basis in this city people looking for handouts and then turn around and take the money to a liquor store or a street corner to buy drugs then it kinda puts a sour taste in your mouth for those who really are hungry. I seen a young man up by sobeys one day and after gathering enough change in his box he went in the store and bought a sandwhich for himself and a bag of dog food for his dog. Some people may argue and say well what a waste to buy for a dog but that dog may have been the only real family and friend he had and it touched me like no other homeless person ever has before. So in fact once we weed out the alcoholics and drug abusers real needy people may get more.

    • Elijah
      April 28, 2011 - 11:29

      Alcoholics and drug abusers ARE "real needy people." Don't you think a lot of those people would rather be leading dignified lives if they had the life skills and self esteem to do so? (For the record, I haven't used recreational drugs (in my case weed) for the past three decades, and I ingest an alcoholic beverage about once a year, if that.)

  • NEWFIE
    April 28, 2011 - 07:24

    Yes I must say over half of these are capeable of working but prefer to bum on the streets. in other words to lazy to look for a job. Get a life because we are not getting any more money from our employer so your bumming is not getting you any where any more.

  • Joseph mcgrath
    April 28, 2011 - 07:06

    I am not sure this is a good idea. IMHO proves very little help about what the real situation is like.