Mike George Sleep OutMost mornings, I walk up Bay Street from Union Station on my way to Trisura’s office. I pass by several homeless people either sleeping out on grates or asking passersby for money. These less fortunate souls are part of the social fabric of downtown Toronto, and are present in every major metropolitan center in Canada. If you are like me, perhaps because it is such a common sight, I generally walk past without much of a second thought.

The issue becomes even more evident mere blocks away from the financial core, and statistics suggest that as many 10,000 youth spend at least part of their year homeless and sleeping on the streets of Toronto.

I was approached by a broker friend in early November with a request to sponsor him for Sleep Out: The Executive Edition. This is a unique experience for corporate executives to raise awareness and funds in an effort to provide opportunity and hope for homeless youth. This is done through Covenant House by sleeping out on the street for one night. As I read about the inspiring services provided by Covenant House, and the positive impact they’ve had on the lives of thousands of youth across North America, I decided to do more than donate. I decided to sleep out myself.

Sleeping Out

On November 23, with 73 other hardy souls from public and corporate organizations, I bedded down in a sleeping bag on a piece of cardboard in an alley not far from Covenant House. We were fortunate that while it rained most of the night, the temperature stayed above zero. Thanks to a protective balcony, we managed to stay fairly dry as well.

Despite these advantages (the warmth of my bag and the strength in numbers, including the Chief of Police), I found it incredibly difficult to sleep. The noise of the city continues throughout the night, and is magnified in the wee hours. Sirens, screeching tires, shouting, honking horns and garbage trucks picking up dumpsters. During the night, I could only imagine how scared and lonely a vulnerable kid on the street would feel.

Covenant House

Thankfully, Covenant House is one of several organizations that offer a safe place of refuge for street kids. They shelter 120 kids every night, feed over 250 youth daily and provide medical, educational and crisis intervention programs for thousands of kids every year. Covenant House also runs a highly successful re-integration program that assists youth in finding jobs and getting affordable housing. They help these kids become meaningful contributors to society.

As part of the event, we met with some of the youth being supported by Covenant House as well as many of the social workers involved. The average age of kids first using the services of Covenant House is 15 or 16. Many of these youth are runaways from disadvantaged or abusive homes. About one third suffer from mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

They are often defenseless and vulnerable to gangs, pimps, prostitution and substance abuse. Without the help and support of shelters like Covenant House, the chances of these kids “making it” are slim to none. Even with the incredible efforts of the social workers involved, one of the most poignant moments for me while touring the shelter was observing a memorial of small doves. The memorial has the names of the dozens of youth who had previously used the services provided by Covenant House, but had subsequently died on the streets of Toronto over the past number of years.

What You Can Do

Overall, our collective efforts sleeping out have raised in excess of $750,000 and counting. Thanks to the incredible support of both Trisura staff and many of our phenomenal brokers, I was very fortunate to raise in excess of $23,000. The experience was eye opening and extremely rewarding. As a result, I have committed to sleeping out for the event again this year and to bringing along a few more friends to sleep out with!

It’s not too late to help if you are interested, and I invite you to visit Covenant House at www.covenanthousetoronto.ca if you want to learn more.

Thank you all once again for your generous support.

Best regards,

Mike