Those who help youth spend night outside



Tracey Tong/metro ottawa


Operation Go Home board chairman Pierre Belanger, left, Chez 106’s Eric Bollman and CTV’s Chris Day at the 24 Hours of Homelessness event.

Last night, Chris Day had a cozy bed waiting for him in a west Ottawa condo.

But despite the bitter cold, the 29-year-old opted instead to scrounge for cardboard boxes large enough to cover him and tried to catch some sleep outdoors, in the ByWard Market.

It was the third time that the vice-chairman of Operation Go Home’s board of directors has slept outside, in a bid to raise awareness and money for the organization that works to assist street youth. The third annual 24 Hours of Homelessness, which started at 4 p.m. yesterday and runs until 4 p.m. today, is a kickoff for Operation Go Home’s Reality Campaign, which runs through Feb. 29. The campaign aims to raise $50,000 for the centre’s operations and $25,000 for renovations at its 179 Murray St. location.

“This is the coldest year so far,” said Day, a CTV reporter, who was joined by board chairman Pierre Belanger and others for the symbolic outdoor sleepover.

“There’s a lot of noise,” the organization’s executive director Elspeth McKay said of sleeping on the streets. “It’s frightening. If you fall asleep, you might get beat up or someone could steal your stuff, or you could get frostbite or some kind of a physical ailment.”

Armed with a backpack, a sleeping bag, several layers of clothing and snow pants, Day tried to mimic conditions that street youth face. He was surprised at how quickly he got cold, saying, “I found it hard to string together a sentence.”

Participants also had to find washrooms — “if you don’t have a place to shower or go to the washroom, it snowballs pretty quickly into a hygiene problem,” Day said.

Despite efforts to keep the experience authentic, Day acknowledged that, unlike street youth, participants had options.

“We know there’s an end point,” he said. “For (street youth), this is the reality every day.”