Covenant House gets executive support for Sleep Out

by | Nov 16, 2012 | News

By Briar Hopley and Sarah MacDonald

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Toronto’s chief of police, the Maple Leaf’s general manager and the marketing maven from CBC’s television show Dragon’s Den were among many to sleep outdoors for homeless youth.

On Thursday night they bundled up in a parking lot on Gerrard Street in downtown Toronto for Covenant House’s Sleep Out: Executive Edition.

Covenant House is a privately funded shelter that has been assisting homeless youth for 40 years.

“We live in Canada, it’s unacceptable that any child in our country is homeless and doesn’t have the same privileges and things that anybody deserves,” said Arlene Dickinson, CEO Venture Communications and a personality on CBC’s Dragons Den.

“You are each going to get a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag and that is it,” Bill Rivers, executive director of Covenant House said to all participants.

“But that in itself is just a glimpse in to the hardship that the youth that we serve experience in their lives when they’re on the street.”

Stephen Martin, a former resident at Covenant House Toronto, said that while the one night Sleep Out differs from what he experienced on the street, he is nevertheless hopeful it will have a positive impact.

“If eight or 10 hours outside is hard, imagine a day, a week, months at a time are like,” Martin told Humber News. “It will put things into perspective as to why a shelter system is so essential to homelessness and homeless prevention.”

Rivers said there were 350 other community leaders and CEO’s sleeping outside across North America for the cause. Some of the cities participating include New York City, Houston and Anchorage.

Rivers said Covenant House Toronto had already exceeded their fundraising goal of $520, 000. The campaign hopes to bring in $2.5 million from across North America.

“We raise 80 per cent of every dollar that is spent in this house and our annual budget is 19 million, so we’re raising a lot of money,” said Rivers.

Information provided by Covenant House, photo from Wiki Commons GRAPHIC BY SARAH MACDONALD AND BRIAR HOPLEY

Covenant House International, located in New York, established the event last year, said Kathryn Checkley, special events associate at the Toronto location.

“This year they invited the other shelters in the Covenant House federation to join them,” Checkley told Humber News.

“Once people heard about the idea they were really enthusiastic about it. And then the committee put together lists and lists of people they wanted to ask. These are culture makers, powerful people in the Toronto community; it was a really impressive list,” she said.

Fifty-three executives participated in the Toronto event.

“What we’re hoping for is the breakdown of stereotypes, both about our kids and the executives,” said Checkley.

“To break down those stereotypes and give everybody the opportunity to learn a little more about each other and how we can work together to give everybody the chance these business executives have is the ultimate goal.”

Jonathan Scott, one of the Property Brothers, spoke to Humber News about his experience so far with Covenant House:

Jonathan Scott, host of Property Brothers