Youth experience homelessness

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
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Sleep Out 120 participants spend five days on streets of St. John’s

The nine youth who have spent the last few nights in downtown St. John’s huddled together in sleeping bags to stay warm are trying to understand what it is like to truly be homeless.

Sleep Out 120 is now in its third year. Over a five-day period, from April 23-28, participants were to spend 120 hours on the streets.

Blair Trainor is the event’s founder. He is now studying pre-social work at Memorial University.

“I was working at Emmanuel House (in St. John’s), and people would call in and say, ‘Hey, I have no shelter to go to,’ and I would be frustrated because I wouldn’t know what to tell them.”

The experience made him feel somewhat ignorant of homelessness issues in St. John’s. To fix that, he developed Sleep Out 120. Participants initially collected funds for Choices For Youth, but this year it will also benefit the Naomi Centre emergency shelter and Waypoints.

“We need to educate the general public on this issue, because if we’re not educated and we’re trying to get educated, I can only imagine how the general public may feel towards this issue.”

Their belongings are limited — a sleeping bag, pillow, toothbrush, soap, journal, pen, water bottle and one change of clothes. Food comes through donations.

“To be able to experience it, there has to be a level of integrity. … In order to experience it, you need to have a limited item list, because the people that go on the streets, they don’t have the luxury to bring their cellphone,” Trainor said.

Three of the participants are social work students, while the remaining six work in child and youth care.

Ashley Gosse, a third-year social work student at MUN, is participating in the full five-day experience for the first time. Last year, she did a 24-hour shift.

“It’s definitely a lot more emotional,” said Gosse, who is also the Sleep Out 120 campaign co-ordinator. “You become very accustomed with the life of the individuals who are living on the streets, so we have a lot of conversations with people who are living on the streets.”

Sleep is hard to come by, according to Gosse, who estimates she managed to catch six hours of shut eye over the first four days. Trainor said the group would also have appreciated better weather conditions.

The physical well-being of participants takes a hit early on, said Trainor, in part because eating habits change. People often donate donuts or foods loaded with carbohydrates and fat. Nutritious items are scarce for people on the streets, he said.

Gosse said the reasons young people become homeless vary.

“Every individual is unique, and every story is unique. Many youth who find themselves on the street come from families and homes that have high levels of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, and they’re dealing with substance abuse issues and mental health issues. They’re marginalized within society in so many different ways.”

Overnight Wednesday, Sleep Out 120 was joined by Len Simms, chairman and CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. He learned about the event while chatting with Trainor last year at the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association’s national congress in Saskatchewan. This year’s national congress is scheduled to take place next week in St. John’s.

“He told me what it was, and at that time I said I should support you on that next year, and, of course, he’s never let me forget it,” said Simms. “You sleep in a team and group for body heat and security. It was a pretty good experience. I had a chance to chat with all the young people about various housing issues.”

Those conversations continued until 2 a.m. Trainor was impressed with Simms’ commitment in joining them for a night.

“We’re the future leaders of this community, and it was really nice to get his leadership skills, and his determination and will to come out and sleep with us was truly amazing,” said Trainor. “Len Simms is an amazing individual.”

Gosse said more needs to be done for affordable housing in Newfoundland and Labrador, given people are being turned away from shelters.

“We need to take a preventative step in affordable housing.”

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Emmanuel House, Naomi Centre, MUN Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • VERY PROUD MOM & DAD
    April 29, 2012 - 11:14

    like the rest of the moms & dads of the 9 Amazing Young Men & Women, we are very proud of our daughter because of everything they have gone through to complete this task & a task it was.Like some newfoundlanders we grew up without a silver spoon in our mouths,but thankfully we got through it & have bettered ourselves for it.Unfortunately theres alot of young ppl who are trying their darnest to get through day to day,I hope ppl can try & imagine what it would be like doing what these fine young people have took upon themselves this week,to do without food,bathrooms,a bed, heat,not all newfoundlanders are greedy ,unfortunately they are just plain ignorant of the goings on around them,I hope they get better educated on the real life going on in this province,not only are ppl struggling to get jobs they are trying tosurvive on these streets & yes maybe some do buy drugs, I think if the streets are this bad to live on anyone would probably turn to it,I hope not but thats not something I know about,I hope something gets done about our homeless problem.I know what these young ppl have done this week was fantastic,god love you all for doing such a fantastic deed.

  • Mom of one of the "BRAVE NINE"
    April 27, 2012 - 20:53

    To Joseph and those who see this as wrong, if you had read this artical corretly you would have seen that this is their feild of work. My child has a full time job working with children who have been taken from their homes and placed in safe enviroment. They are raising awareness about the homeless and it looks like they are doing a great job they got you to post something didn't they! I'm one PROUD MOM of her child and her nine friends!

  • Helen Hunt
    April 27, 2012 - 17:58

    As I sit here reading your comments I have to admit that I too had the opinion of many of you - there are signs everywhere "NOW HIRING" but to be honest (and yes I have to admit I too am guilty of this) would you hire someone that comes in with dirty uncut hair smelly clothing and telling you they cannot give you an address or phone number because they are homeless!?! Then you have the landlord part of it - landlords rent to those with jobs, look like they are clean responsible people - and because you turned away the young person with no job, he cannot get a phone in his/her name to give employers an address and phone number - and with no address they cannot get full support from government assistance. So "NO PITY' give a little thought to your comment - seems you wouldn't give them a break yourself - I hope someday you will experience first hand needing some form of help and see how too many socially uneducated people there are in this world! With the average 1 bedroom apartment costing roughly $800 in these twin cities how can someone afford to pay for it on a minimum wage job? My son Michael is one of the young people doing the 120 for homelessness and I have to say I am one proud Mother - he educated me on what is really going on - things that too many of us turn a blind eye too - sure there are those that abuse the system but that is a small number - so don't punish all for those few. My heart and eyes have been opened and no longer pretend I don't hear or a homeless person - don't forget one of the things that make us different from other mammals is our compassion - so I hope and wish that everyone who has seen these 9 wonderful young people on the street or seen this article in the paper will think a little about what they felt so strongly for that they gave up not only a roof over their heads but a week off work and a week away from loved ones just to let us all know that a problem does exsist and we all must do a little to help solve it!!!

  • Chantal
    April 27, 2012 - 13:37

    Ahh yes. To be homeless. We all dream the dream of having nowhere to live and scrounging for food and warmth. The homeless have it all sewn up in a life that those of us who have homes and well paying jobs can only envy. Sometimes I look out the windows from my table at Bianca's and see them there cheating the system to live the good life (after which I write-off my poached salmon and drinks as a business expense).

  • Molly
    April 27, 2012 - 11:21

    You people need to be educated on this issue. These opinions are ignorant and ridiculous. You can't see beyond your own bitterness and cynicism to wake up to the world's problems. What are any of you doing to better the community?

  • Joseph McGrath
    April 27, 2012 - 11:11

    Maybe I am missing something but I cannot see how living on a street for several days and buming for grub solves anything???Better for those young ones to lock down their studies,get accepted into their chosen profession and work from the inside to aid those in society who are unable to care for themselves.The hidden face of real poverty is itched on the faces of those who live in slum conditions and exist on social services because they have no choice.That is the real story here and young ones sleeping on the streets does very very little to solve the problem!!

    • K.N.
      April 27, 2012 - 14:15

      You ARE missing the point. The article clearly states that this initiative aims to 1) bring awareness to the issues of homelessness in our province and 2) raise funds for organizations that support individuals struggling with homelessness. Maybe you should actually read the article before you dump all over it.

  • todd
    April 27, 2012 - 11:07

    You people are a bunch of fools! How can you not see there is a housing crisis! I for one am homeless now because my place burned last week! I am on ei, but it is difficult. The jobs here really suck. You can't get any good trade work and it seems you will always be making 10-12 bucks an hour and there is very little steady work. I feel pretty bad for young people. NEWFOUNDLANDERS ARE THE GREEDIEST IN CANADA!! apartments are going up horribly and are now unaffordable! How dare you judge people who have had bad luck by saying GET A JOB and other bull, you greedy newfoundlanders. Nobody here was ever really that nice. You all only care about yourself. I feel ashamed to be a newfoundlander now more than ever!!!! Everyone will soon be homeless if this bull keeps up and we keep investing 3mil in stupid crap like ROD!

  • kim
    April 27, 2012 - 10:22

    I personally know of some young people who have delibertly victimized themselves for the sole intention of qualifying for government money and programs.There are indeed cases out there that would break a persons heart and are indeed legetimate.But the people I know are abusing the system.I think that if drug testing wad an ongoing requirement for participation in Thease programs it would weed out many who abuse it.They could argue that because of their hard life they have turned to drugs and that may be true.However if they are using donations and tax payer money they should be actively participating in their own reform.The individuals i know spend their social assistance cheque on weed,suppliment their income selling items from"their contacts",Thease same people make no secret of it regularly going on social media sites looking for people to come to their place(paid for by choices for youth) to smoke a "fattie"..In theory the program to help the homeless is good but its sad that someone like that can get accepted and have funding available while the people who are actually trying to straighten up can't get help because the space isn't there.

  • No Pity
    April 27, 2012 - 07:40

    There is NO need for this to be going on today...I see NOW HIRING jobs everywhere...don't be conned by whats going on. I would say if the truth be known...there are quite alot of Freegans among them. Some are probably durggies who don't want to spend any money on necessaties. Stop looking for pity and going around like the world owes you something. GET A JOB!!!!

  • Andy
    April 27, 2012 - 06:46

    There is no real homelessness in St. John's. There are people who choose to bypass the social welfare system for various reasons. Almost all of the people seem on the streets at night are transients. A far greater problem in downtown St. John's is the condition of low income housing. It would be a far more traumatic experience to stay in the accommodations of those not on the street than to pretend to be homeless. Believe me i know.

    • Helen Hunt
      April 27, 2012 - 18:05

      Andy you need a little more education - I too thought like you but please go to any of these groups that help the youth in our cities, spend a little time with them and you will understand that there is a homeless problem - untill you have educated yourself you have no right to post such a comment - give a few hours a week to any of these groups then after a few months see how your attitude will change! Further more if we don't all educate ourselves then the problem will continue to grow and too many youth will not grow to find out all that they could be and all that they could contribute to society!