I sunk into my own bed at around 7:15 this morning as the sun was beginning to brighten up the sky. I walked home from the Covenant House Sleep Out on West Pender at Hamilton because I somehow had the energy after only getting about 2.5 hours of sleep. Traffic lights changed for no one, steam rose up from vents on the sidewalk.
I kept thinking about the excruciatingly cold night I just spent in a concrete parking lot with 29 other executives and local media armed with with nothing more than a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag each. I also thought about how the youth we were supporting through Covenant House’s crisis shelter wouldn’t be able to wake up from their cardboard beds and go home to their families like we were doing.
When the email from Covenant House came in just before 8:00am saying that we raised over $327,000 to keep their crisis shelter operating 24 hours a day for 1 month straight — servicing 54 youth — it made it all worthwhile.
Marty Staniforth, Senior Development Officer at Covenant House, told us earlier in the evening that this would be the worst event we’ve ever attended — it was meant to be uncomfortable — and he was right in that regard. However, prior to heading out at 10:00pm, we spent some time at Covenant House speaking with some of their youth and touring their facility. We learned about their various levels of care such as the Crisis Shelter, Drop in Centre, Street Outreach, and Rights of Passage.
“Many of the kids have lived with violence or the threat of violence for much of their young lives. Feeling safe is a right we all have but one these kids have not enjoyed.”
We split off into groups and spoke with youth clients who volunteered their time to tell us their stories. It was encouraging to meet kids who went from being homeless, to the crisis shelter all the way through to Rights of Passage, Covenant House’s program that prepares them for the bigger world.
Those in Rights of Passage actually pay (an affordable) rent and get full access to programs provided that they have a job or they are in school. They end up learning basics like grocery shopping and budgeting, and once they are through the program (6 months to 2 years) they are supported when they eventually move out, even welcomed to return for the weekly communal dinners. The care just keeps going to ensure the youth become self-sufficient, gainfully employed, successful individuals.
Once we saw Covenant House’s work in action, and met some very brave and persevering individuals, we picked up our scraps of cardboard and went outside to the parking lot just off the alley. While we were settling in for the night one of the youth we met in the hallways came outside and walked over to a small group of us sitting toward the back of the lot. She had blankets in her arms and asked us to take them. She wanted to make sure that we would be warm and comfortable throughout the night. I was floored. Covenant House’s care and compassion is contagious.
Throughout the night I smelled car fluids from the ground below me, used a scarf as a pillow, heard random shouts and passing conversations, and watched the moon cross the sky as puffs of my own breath clouded my view. Every now and then adjustments needed to be made when the cold pierced through my sleeping bag or a body part turned to pins and needles. It was uncomfortable, it was freezing, and I already want to sign up again next year.
Over 600 participants around North America slept out for their local Covenant House last night. Raising over $3 million. Vancouver had 5% of the participants but raised 10% of the funds.
A big THANK YOU to the Covenant House staff who watched over us all night and shared their passion for their work.