Spending the night on the streets of Vancouver, with nothing but a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag, is something most people would not do by choice.
Unfortunately, as South Surrey resident Joan Webster knows all too well, it’s a scenario young people face day in and day out, as they grapple with homelessness, mental-health issues and addiction.
As a volunteer at Covenant House in Yaletown, Webster works with at-risk youth, many of whom – unlike her own grown children – have not had the love, support and opportunities to help them succeed.
“Our kids were blessed with a village to raise them, with a lot of love and support and opportunity,” Webster told Peace Arch News. “But the kids on the streets have had none of that.”
Webster – along with fellow Ocean Park residents and Covenant House supporters Pam Kirzinger and Claudia Hainc – will be spending the night May 5 sleeping on the street outside of the Yaletown shelter.
The women are among 33 moms from around the Lower Mainland taking part in the first ever Sleep Out: Mothers Edition, in an effort to raise awareness about and funds for Covenant House’s outreach support workers and drop-in centre.
The centre provides street youth – aged 16-24 – with warm meals, medical and dental services, counselling, legal assistance and, – most importantly, Webster said – words of encouragement.
“I see small miracles every day at the centre,” Webster said.
“These kids come in, and they’ve slept on the streets, and they’re weary, tired and hungry, and no one has even said good morning to them. Once they’ve had some food and some conversation, all of a sudden, their spirits lift.”
The sleep out is not about the moms pretending to be homeless. Rather, the initiative is meant to show the youth living on the streets that they have the support and love of a group of women who want to help.
For the South Surrey participants – who acknowledge the community’s affluence and disconnect from the gritty street life downtown – it’s a chance to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.
“We’re fortunate enough to be able to help (our own kids) when they need help, but there are so many kids out there that don’t have that support,” Hainc said. “I realize we can’t help all of them, but even if it’s just a few, it’s so worth it.”
And although the group is prepared for a cold, possibly rainy and most likely sleepless night, the women have no qualms about taking part.
“This will be inconvenient and uncomfortable for one night, but these kids do it every night for years and years,” Webster said.
Kirzinger added, “And this is May, it’s not like we’re doing this in December.”
The participants set a collective fundraising goal of $75,000, which has already been surpassed by nearly $20,000. Each mom was tasked with raising $3,000, which the local participants have either nearly met or exceeded already.
To find out more about the event, or to donate, visit www.covenanthousebc.org and follow the links to Sleep Out: Mothers Edition.