What I learned giving up my bed for a night to join Covenant House's Sleepout Vancouver

The annual fundraiser helps cover the cost of support programs for homeless youths

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      In late May, Covenant House hosted their 9th Sleep Out Vancouver fundraiser. Sleep Out Vancouver is an annual event where people give up their bed for one night and "sleep out".

      The goal was to raise awareness and money for Covenant House Vancouver who take care of some of our city's most vulnerable young people. Add in a pandemic, and the challenges they face may seem impossible. Covenant House didn't skip a beat when COVID hit last year; it adapted and found ways to continue to deliver services and support.

      Personally, I have no lived experience of being homeless. There has been no shortage of poverty and poor choices, but never have I had to worry about searching for a safe place to sleep. My decision to participate was two-fold: raise some much needed money for Covenant House because I believe they are doing damn amazing work, and secondly, to truly find out what sleeping outside for one night would feel like.  

      It is no secret that Vancouver is an impossibly expensive city to live in. Over the past 20 years, we have seen affordable housing become people’s number one concern. Rental increases, renovictions, and skyrocketing real-estate prices have people living in fear of losing their home. Imagine how daunting it is for a young person.

      Covenant House

      The Georgia Straight checked in with Kristy Hayter who is Covenant House’s senior manager of communications. She said that one of the biggest misconceptions people have about homeless youths is that they simply don’t want to follow rules and this is the choice that they have made, but it is not the case. The reality is they have experienced different types trauma and feel that the only choice they have is to leave. That trauma can be both a cause and a product of homelessness.

      We met through a Zoom call to hear from young people who had lived experience of being homeless and found support through Covenant House’s programs. Staff talked about the types of programs they run with genuine care and hope for the future. Participants were listening from their backyards and living room floors until 9:30 when we all retreated to our makeshift bed.

      It was cold that night. The sound of the city never stops, and that was just the beginning.

      Janet McDonald's notes when she was sleeping outside.

      Sleeping in your clothes and a winter coat is not comfortable, but necessary to stay warm. Sleeping on a yoga mat outside is extremely unpleasant. I needed to go to the bathroom, not once but twice that night. My biggest fear was a racoon or bad weather, not having my belongings stolen or being physically assaulted. There is nowhere to brush your teeth and you wake up feeling like shit. My body was aching and my brain was scrambled from the fragmented sleep.

      We did a Zoom call at 7 a.m. the next morning to check in and discuss our experiences. There is no doubt that everyone took away a deeper understanding of the obstacles youth face when living on street.

      As of the following Saturday morning, Covenant House Sleep Out: Home Edition has almost hit its goal. There were over 1,063 donations, 98 sleepers raised an incredible $165,331, and the funds were still coming.

      As a result of my experience, the next time I see a young, vulnerable person living on the street I will remember they are searching for the same thing as the rest of us: stability, hope, jobs and a place to call home.