Facing the elements

Published on May 8, 2013
Four youth from the Baccalieu Trail region are seen sleeping outside at the Conception Bay Regional Community Centre in Carbonear to raise awareness of youth homelessness on April 29. Pictured here are, from left, Heather Sutton, Stacy Harris, Kathleen Mercer and Samantha Crocker.
Photo by Melissa Jenkins

Please note: This article was originally published in the May 7 print edition of The Compass


Shadows of storm clouds fill the sky as droplets of rain begin to fall. Umbrellas go up, and crowds of people rush to keep from getting wet.

Rain fills the crevasses in the streets, causing water to pool. Cars rush through puddles, splashing anyone that may be nearby.

Underneath the eaves of a local business, covered only with dirty newspaper and a cardboard box, lies a girl, no more than 16 years old, struggling to keep from getting wet.

Though the scene described above is fictional, it's sometimes a reality in municipalities across Canada, including this province.

Awareness campaign

Sleepout 48 is an awareness campaign, sponsored by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and Homelessness Network, that saw several youth from the Baccalieu Trail, students from College of the North Atlantic in Carbonear and members of the Open Door ministry take to the streets April 28-30, spending 48 hours facing the elements while raising awareness of youth homelessness.

The campaign helps educate those in the area that people, especially youth, in our communities live in homeless situations every day.

On this day, 12 locals head to the Conception Bay Regional Community Centre in Carbonear, equipped with only a sleeping bag, a few essentials and the clothes on their backs. They don't know what to expect, says organizer Stacy Harris.

"We decided to do 48 hours to support the cause of raising awareness around youth housing and homelessness in our area," she explains, mentioning a St. John's event a few weeks ago, Sleepout 120, was an influence to bring the campaign to rural areas.

Living on donations

Partakers are not allowed to supply anything else, and rely only on donations for food, drinks and anything to shelter them from the elements.

"Some (people) gave money donations, or brought coffee. We've even had pizza delivered to us," Harris says.

Lined against the community centre are eight cardboard refrigerator boxes donated by a local business. Inside them lie the sleeping bags and a couple of blankets. Nothing else.

As the sun sets and the night air gets cold, the group huddles together to keep warm inside the boxes.

"This just got real," participant Kathleen Mercer states as the group settles down for their first night on the ground.

They successfully complete the first night.

Couch surfing

The next morning, several members arrive at the TC Square shopping centre in Carbonear to demonstrate a common form of homelessness known as "couch surfing."

"Couch surfing is when someone doesn't have a place to live and they might go from a friend's house to a relative's house and literally sleep on someone's couch," Harris says. "It seems to be very prevalent in this area."

Another matter the group strongly recognizes is the lack of youth shelters in the area. They hoist a sign in the mall that states "There are no youth shelters on the Baccalieu Trail."

"We are sending our youth to St. John's, and they are becoming disconnected with their support services, their families and sometimes school," Harris exclaims. "With a shelter on the Baccalieu Trail it would help with that."

Homelessness is usually not seen around this area because it is "hidden," she notes. The group had heard stories about people sleeping in improvised shelters on the wharf and in abandoned buildings around Carbonear.

Community support

The group received community support from the Town of Carbonear, College of the North Atlantic, M-RON, the Knights of Columbus in Carbonear and many other businesses and organizations.

"The amount of community support, the amount of food, the people who stopped off and donated $5 into our little piggy banks is unreal," Harris says "They chatted with us and said 'what a great cause.'"

For supper on April 29, family and friends donated a hot meal of pasta, pizza, soup and sandwiches at the Knights of Columbus.

Harris hopes those who donated to their cause will take the support and transfer it to the community by helping a neighbour, a friend or someone in need, even if it means just talking with someone.

"Sometimes that will make all the difference in someone's life," she says.

Those in need of housing assistance in the area can contact Kimberly Crane, a community support worker at M-RON.