By Rory MacDonald-Gauthier

Roughly 30 community members of Westboro and Dovercourt Recreation Centre braved through rain and snow during an overnight sleepover for youth homelessness late last month.

The event, titled, “Westboro SleepOUT for Youth”, took place on Nov. 22 with fundraisers successfully raising $4,122.

Mark Bond, recreational programmer at Dovercourt and organizer of the SleepOUT event was overwhelmed by the amount raised so quickly. It was four times over the original goal.

“Our initial goal was $1,000. I had to change that to $2,000 because we got $1,000 within a week,” said Bond. “We were expecting very little. People really rallied behind us and donations have been coming in like wildfire.”

To date, the Youth Services Bureau has raised $72,960.12 this year alone. With all funds raised being donated directly to the Youth Services Bureau, Dovercourt’s efforts will have an immediate impact on at least one youth’s life. According to Bond, it takes roughly $3,500 to provide one youth with a room for a year.

The weather that night taught participants the harsh reality of how vulnerable one is by sleeping outside. With rain developing into snow in less than an hour, it was quite apparent who was there for fun and who was there to make a difference.

“This weather will give people a truly authentic experience on how a homeless youth spends the night,” Bond said. “People who come out for the social aspect won’t show up obviously, but then the real troopers are going to come out and spend the night.”

As funds were a major priority of this charitable event, awareness was not far behind it. Daniel Bourget, a student of Algonquin in the social service worker program feels, this type of the event is the correct method in spreading awareness about this unfortunate problem.

“It’s a good cause. Our society in Ottawa – there is poverty, but in a lot of our lives right here, the majority of us have not experienced this kind of thing,” said Bourget. “I think it’s a really good thing for children and youth to experience this at a young age. It’s a rare thing that most won’t experience.”

“I think it’s a great thing for parents to look at. When parents see this, they’ll see their kids learning the lesson of what other kids have to go through,” said Steven Armstrong, a former counselor at Dovercourt who participated in the SleepOUT event. Armstrong sees Westboro as a white-collar neighbourhood where residents generally have a fair amount of money and would not normally experience poverty.

Bourget and Armstrong both believe that this experience is a great way to rationalize the harsh realities seen outside of most people’s lives.

“I personally have never been homeless but I think it’s interesting to be able to actually say that you could somewhat relate to the toughness and difficulty that homeless youth have faced during that period in their life,” said Bourget.

Armstrong believes that SleepOUT events help alleviate the stigma around being homeless as it gives participants first-hand experience in living outside.

“You see someone downtown begging on the street and you’re thinking, why is he asking me for money,” said Armstrong.

“If you’re taking it in the way as we are experiencing with someone being homeless, it’s a hard life. They have to beg. That’s the reality.”