Fac­ing the ele­ments

Bac­calieu Trail youth live on streets for 48 hours


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.

Dur­ing the Sleep­out 48 cam­paign, par­tic­i­pants held signs to draw at­ten­tion to the youth home­less­ness is­sue fac­ing the Bac­calieu Trail area. Pic­tured are: front — Jeff Bourne (kneel­ing); sec­ond row — Jesse Bown, Sa­man­tha Crocker, Terri Whyte, Sherry Quirke and Stacy Har­ris; back — Bran­don Par­sons, Ja­son Ka­vanagh and Kath­leen Mercer. Miss­ing from photo: Ali­cia Hop­kins, Michelle Shep­pard-Whalen and Heather Sut­ton.

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.

Kath­leen Mercer, a Sleep­out 48 par­tic­i­pant and stu­dent of the Col­lege of the North At­lantic, pre­pares her sleep­ing quar­ters in a card­board box for the sec­ond night of the cam­paign.

Sleep­out 48 or­ga­nizer Stacy Har­ris dis­plays a bowl of pasta from a hot sup­per hosted at the Knights of Colum­bus in Car­bon­ear. Food was do­nated by fam­ily and friends, and the event gave the par­tic­i­pants the chance to get out of the cold be­fore their sec­ond night sleep­ing out­doors.

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