Most high school students can’t wait to burst through the doors when the final bell of the day rings.
But on March 30, a group of 16 or 17 students at Gleneagle Secondary in Coquitlam will be settling in for a long, cold, uncomfortable night sleeping on the concrete outside the school’s front doors.
Gleneagle’s 10th annual Sleep Out aims to replicate the challenges of living rough by young people who don’t have the comfort of a warm, suburban home.
Organized entirely by students, the event is also a fundraiser for Covenant House that provides supports to homeless youth in Metro Vancouver.
According to the organization, 20 per cent of Canada’s homeless population is between the ages of 13 and 24.
Ruby Charney, a Grade 12 student who participated in last year’s Sleep Out, said the experience was “eye opening” and inspired her to begin volunteering at a local overnight mat program.
“You understand how hard it is to be homeless,” she said.
Mia Middlekauff, another senior, said experiencing the challenges of being without shelter, even for a single night, can help break through stereotypes many people have about homelessness.
“When we see people lying on the sidewalk, we think they must be drug addicts, but other factors contribute,” she said.
Added Grade 11 student Zoey Liu, “We all have a possibility to become homeless.”
Skylar Smith, one of the Sleep Out’s organizers, said the event will begin with an educational component where the students can learn about the stigmas around homelessness and the challenges posed by hostile architecture that is often placed in outdoor public spaces to dissuade people from bedding down for the night.
There will also be a speaker from Covenant House to orient the students about the homelessness situation and the kind of work it does like mental health supports and living skills programs to help ease the crisis.
Charney said youth homelessness is an easy problem for many to ignore, especially in the suburbs where it’s easier to encamp for the night out of sight in parks, wooded areas and along riverbanks.
“A lot of people think it’s not their problem,” she said.
And while the students will be back in their warm beds before the weekend ends, they hope the spectacle of a group of young people hunkered down on the pavement with only sleeping bags and sheets of cardboard for comfort will generate some compassion and empathy for those who don’t have that option.
“Everyone has their own situation,” Charney said.
• Last year’s Sleep Out raised $5,000 for Covenant House. To support this year’s effort, you can go to the event’s dedicated website.