It’s hard to fully understand how someone feels until you actually put yourself in their shoes. You might look at a homeless person and feel sympathy for him, but until you’ve spent a night on the street, it’s hard to imagine just how difficult it is to live on the streets.
The 360 Experience is an event designed to do just that. run by 360 Kids, an organization that supports homeless youth, the event places participants on the street for a whole night. Participants are allowed to only use resources a homeless teen might have- the clothes on their back, a cell phone with no data plan, and shoes. Held on March 2nd, 2017, the event is done in the winter to give participants an idea how it might feel to be homeless in the winter.
The event was created with the intention of letting people know how it might feel to be homeless. Executive Director Michael Braithwaite explained: “We wanted it to be in the winter so people really felt not only the isolation, fear and loneliness, but the element of weather and how it effects your choices.”
The first year the event had 15 participants. The event quickly grew, and there were over 30 participants for the last two events. They even had the participation of Chris Ballard, who has since become very focused on the issue of youth homelessness as the Minister of Housing. Many others have participated and every one of them has come away eager to help today’s homeless teens.
These excerpts about the sleep out were taken from an article written by participant Bianca Zanotti, who was part of the Young Leaders’ 360⁰Experience in 2015. The event is similar to the 360 Experience, but targeted at young leaders. Bianca is currently studying journalism at Ryerson University.
“It was like every high school party I had ever been to – except most of the kids here were homeless and the rest were about to experience being homeless for the night. And I couldn’t tell the difference. The music was blaring, kids were slouched on the couch hugging, some huddled on the floor. My group of four is the given the scenario that we are a single teen mother, just evicted from a rental basement and have to make our way to Blue Door Shelters in East Gwillimbury, the only family shelter in the region. It’s first come, first serve, so we must hurry – they turned away about 5,000 people in 2014 and 4,000 in 2015 because there were no beds.”
“We get one bus ticket and $5 each for the night. We make our way to the VIVA bus shelter – it is chilling cold, and the moon hangs in the black sky. Just footsteps behind me as part of the group is my younger brother, his friend and another boy. I gesture for them to hurry up so we don’t miss the bus. As the oldest, I am forced to lead.”
“On any regular night, I’d be getting ready to go to bed and thinking about school the next day. Tonight, I’m trying to get out of -20⁰ and find us all a bed.”
“We get off the bus and after a long walk down a highway with no sidewalk or street lights, finally arriving at the shelter. I wonder how anyone in crisis would ever find this place. ”
“You must be at least 18 years old to stay here overnight because it is an adult shelter. Anyone under 16 must be in the care of children’s aid or travel to one of the region’s youth shelters located in Newmarket and Sutton.
No time to debate – we can’t stay the night. My brother is tired and frustrated, I feel like crying, and this is just an experience – it’s not the real thing.”
“It’s 1 a.m. and the last bus back to Richmond Hill leaves in 40 minutes. We still have a long walk ahead of us. The bus ride back is lonelier. My brother and the others fall asleep and I feel my mood blacken like the sky. ”
“I wake them all as our stop approaches and we find shelter in a Scotiabank vestibule before the official end of our experience. The bank’s slogan is painted on the wall above my brother’s sleeping head, “You’re richer than you think.”
This one event has a major impact. It affects the people who participate in the sleep out, as well as the teens who use 360 Kids for shelter and support. The organization uses this event as a way to raise money to fund their programs. You can donate by sponsoring a participant or donating directly to the event. You can also donate items that the teens need.
We decided to get involved by donating some of our Wearable Therapy products and by making Christmas bags full of much-needed goodies (like toothpaste and socks) for the teens. However you get involved, it’s a way for you to directly change the future of a teen, and it’s an experience that you won’t forget.
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