In a world filled with distractions, comforts, and the warmth of our homes, it’s easy to overlook the struggles faced by those experiencing homelessness. Earlier this year, a group of grade nine students from Island Pacific School, on Bowen Island, embarked on a transformative journey that took them beyond the classroom and into the harsh realities faced by homeless youth. In February, the grade nine students of Island Pacific School gave up their safe and comfortable beds for one night so that youth can find theirs at Covenant House Vancouver.
This program is designed to teach students about the issues that lead to youth homelessness. The students raise awareness about the programs and services offered at Covenant House Vancouver and raise critical funds to help support youth experiencing homelessness.
As a part of the Sleep Out movement, each participant took on the challenge of raising funds for Covenant House Vancouver and collectively raised $7,645. Island Pacific school has been participating in this program for nine years and over the past nine years, students have fundraised $82,692.00 to support young people at Covenant House Vancouver. Through Sleep Out, school edition, students across the Lower Mainland are taking a stand against youth homelessness.
Two students, Finn and Isaac share their firsthand accounts and we will explore their eye-opening adventure, what they learned, and the impact the Sleep Out experience had on their perspective.
Getting a Glimpse of Reality:
Finn and Isaac class’s adventure began with a walk-through Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, an area well-known for its homelessness crisis. What struck them most was the stark contrast between learning about homelessness in a classroom and witnessing it firsthand. “As much as we can learn in classrooms about homelessness and what’s going on… when you get to see it and… see all the people on the streets, it was definitely a different thing,” Finn remarked.
Isaac shared similar sentiments, describing how they encountered the tragic realities of people in dire need during their walk. He noted how shocking it was to witness how normalized these conditions had become in the area. The Sleep Out experience was a stark reminder that homelessness is not just a statistic or a topic for discussion—it’s a harsh reality for many people.
Lessons from Ramen Noodles:
For dinner during their Sleepout, the students were given a limited budget of $2 to buy food. Finn’s group purchased ramen noodles, a choice that made them reflect on the importance of access to nutritious meals. They realized how challenging it would be to sustain themselves on such a diet and with extremely limited funds, for an extended period, reinforcing the idea that homelessness often results in poor nutrition and health.
Isaac’s group pooled their money and in doing so could afford a few more items. They also bought ramen noodles, along with day-old pastries and a drink. The taste and nutritional quality of their meal left much to be desired, emphasizing how tough it must be for individuals who rely on similarly inadequate sustenance every day.
A Chilly Night and the Importance of Empathy:
After their eye-opening experiences during the day, Finn, Isaac, their classmates, and teachers returned to back to their school on Bowen Island for the sleeping outside part of their experience. Despite having warm sleeping bags and the option to seek shelter indoors, the night was bitterly cold, with temperatures dropping to -10°C.
The students found the experience grueling. They struggled to sleep and awoke multiple times during the night. The frigid conditions highlighted the immense difficulty of sleeping outside, and it left a deep impression on both Finn and Isaac. It made them realize just how privileged they are and how challenging it must be for those without such resources. This insight emphasized the need for empathy and understanding when addressing the issue of youth homelessness.
Finn emphasized the empathy they developed for homeless youth and the realization that their own circumstances were far more fortunate. “Knowing that there are people out there who have to do that every night… definitely made me feel empathy,” he shared.
The Sleep Out experience pushed these students to the brink of their comfort zones, allowing them to glimpse the challenges that homeless youth face daily. The discomfort, cold, and sleep deprivation were powerful teachers. “The fact that I wasn’t totally able to complete it as it was intended kind of proves to me how good I have it and how privileged we really are,” Isaac reflected. It made them keenly aware of the stark disparities in their lives compared to those experiencing homelessness.
The next day, with grumbling bellies and not much rest, the students were expected to show up to class and be ready for a full day of learning. They described how groggy and tired they were and couldn’t imagine how they were going to get through a full day having to concentrate and learn. “You have to think about the kids who have to go to school the next day after this and then have to repeat that for a while year. I can say that I slept out, but I can’t really say that I’ve put myself in their shoes completely because they definitely have it a lot harder than me, and they also have to do this every single day,” expresses Finn.
Learning the Importance of Covenant House:
For these students, the Sleep Out experience included a visit to Covenant House Vancouver, where the students learned about our mission and services. Covenant House not only provides shelter and meals but also offers programs to help homeless youth break free from the cycle of homelessness. Finn and Isaac recognized the significance of organizations like Covenant House Vancouver in providing essential support and pathways to a better future for those experiencing homelessness. “It feels as if the services that Covenant House provides not only help people survive but get out of that loop,” Isaac noted. By offering support, guidance, and opportunities for young people to rebuild their lives, Covenant House Vancouver addresses the root causes of homelessness.
Finn and Isaac’s Sleep Out experience went far beyond the theoretical understanding of homelessness. It was a transformative journey that deepened their understanding of homelessness, inequality and privilege. It immersed them in the harsh realities faced by those without a stable home and emphasized the importance organizations like Covenant House in addressing this critical issue. Their empathy and newfound perspective serve as a reminder that compassion and awareness are vital in addressing the complex issue of homelessness and working toward a more equitable society.
To learn more about Finn and Issacs experience, listen to our Sleep Out Student Edition podcast episode, where we invited both Finn and Issac, and their teacher Kari Marentette, to our studios.
Their experience serves as a powerful reminder that education extends beyond the classroom, and firsthand experiences can be transformative, inspiring action to make a positive change in the world. If you are a student or a teacher, or someone in the school district reading this; we encourage you to get involved and host your own Sleep Out School Edition