Kevin Gong, Yoonha Lee and Masa Wong admit their lives are pretty privileged. They each have their own rooms in large, comfortable homes, a Mercedes coupe is parked in front of one.
But for one night each will roll up their privilege in a sleeping bag and hunker down for a cold night in a garage, shed or garden.
Gong, Lee and Wong are part of a group of 10 students participating in Gleneagle secondary school’s eighth annual sleep out on Feb. 25 to raise awareness about homeless youth and raise money for Covenant House to run programs that support them.
Like so many of their activities in this most extraordinary school year, the event takes on a different complexion because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of gathering in a group on the pavement in front of the school, where they can take comfort in their shared discomfort and feel secure in each other’s company, each participant will make their own individual arrangement to “sleep rough.”
To keep everyone safe, and ease the trepidation of parents, the students will be staying close to home, but without any of its attendant comforts, like a warm, soft bed or a filling dinner.
Gong, a grade 12 student, and Wong, who’s in grade 11, will unroll their sleeping bags in their family’s garages.
Lee, also a senior, will bunk in a garden shed.
“We want to put ourselves in their shoes,” he said of their effort to replicate some of the challenges faced every day by homeless youth. “We want to take a peek into their lives.”
As part of their preparation, the students have been walking their neighbourhoods to find places that might function as overnight shelter. They’ve also been watching videos provided by Covenant House that share the stories of homeless young people.
Wong said it’s been an eye-opening process.
“Nothing is routine for them. They always have to find a new place to sleep or get food.”
But the temporary campers will be doing more than just trying to stay warm and grab a little shuteye. Through the course of the evening, they’ll connect online to share their thoughts and reflections and a phone call at 6 a.m. will roust them from their slumber. That is, if they got any.
Gong said he expects a long, uncomfortable night.
Wong said his parents are worried he’ll get sick.
Lee said he’s afraid rats might infiltrate his shelter.
“I’ll be waking up a lot,” he said, adding it’s a good thing the following day is a professional development day and schools are closed.
Gong said he hopes the experience will give his peers pause to open their eyes and see some of the problems faced by other young people, especially as everyone navigates the challenges brought on by the public health crisis.
“Everybody is struggling,” he said. “We need to remind ourselves that there are people who really need help.”
Click here to support the sleep out, and make a donation to Covenant House.