My 24 hours for homelessness

4 MIN READ

Would you spend 24 hours outside on one of the coldest nights of the season?

If it was for a good cause? I did and I’d do it again in a heartbeat! On February 2, 2023, temperatures plummeted throughout the night to –41°C with the windchill.

Coincidentally, this was the same day as the 24 Hours for Homelessness Challengean event put on by Operation Come Home (OCH), one of United Way East Ontario’s long-time partners, to raise awareness on youth homelessness in Ottawa.  

Leading up to the day, I was constantly checking the weather forecast. Every time I looked, it got colder. This would be my first time doing the 24 Hours for Homelessness Challenge.

Whenever I started to worry, I caught myself. I remembered all the things working in my favour, all the ways I’m privileged, all the youth facing homelessness that I need to step up for. 

Here’s a recap on an unforgettable 24 hours …

Did you know?

According to the John Howard Society of Ottawa, youth represented about 13% of Ottawa's homeless population in 2021. However, the number is likely much higher because the info we have doesn’t account for those at-risk or hidden homelessness.
Jennifer Lorimer and Aidan Liebich

Thursday at 2 PM: Just getting started 

When we arrived at the corner of Bank and Gloucester, it was barely below 0°C. We held up signs to raise awareness for passersby and fundraise for this important cause.  

Throughout the night, Mother Nature put the volunteers to the test of the elements. The temperature suddenly dropped. The wind quickly escalated. The snow whipped against our faces. 

We didn’t see many young people sleeping on the street that night. Due to the frostbite warning, the OPH Health Unit offered various warming stations, but this is just a temporary solution to a much greater issue.

I sincerely hope this meant that all those who needed somewhere to go were safe, sound, and cozy that night.  

Thursday at 11 PM: Chill sets in

I slept on a wood slab with cardboard on top. I had a sleeping bag, fleece blanket, slept in my jacket and countless layers…I was still cold. I barely slept. Partially because I couldn’t stay warm, but also because I wasn’t used to the sounds of the city at night. I found myself on high alert anytime there was a strange noise. There were times that I thought about heading home, but here’s what kept me going through the night: 

  • The cause and it’s place in my heart ❤️ 
  • The reminder that it’s only 24 hours 🕒   
  • Knowing there are young people that brace the cold every single day and night ❄️ 
  • The other volunteers 💪 
  • Listening to music 🎶 
  • My stubbornness and passion for helping those in need🔥 

  

Friday at 7 AM: Heartwarming community spirit 

The temperature continued to drop throughout the morning. I hoped the sunlight would warm us up, but it didn’t. At this point, I was exhausted—physically, mentally, emotionally. Thankfully, we had hot coffee, money to get breakfast, good winter gear, and a sense of community. We kept the music blasting and despite the exhaustion, we kept moving and grooving, with our signs in tow.  

Many of the young people facing homelessness that came to OCH that morning didn’t have gloves or a proper jacket. But I was comforted to know they could go into OCH, have a hot meal at the drop-in, and access any services that they needed. Those I spoke to radiated positivity and even cracked a few jokes.  

For them, it seemed like a regular day, but there’s so much that we don’t see or understand. Finding a safe place to sleep is only part of the story. They might come to OCH because they have a difficult home life or be a victim of abuse. They might struggle with their mental health or have fallen behind in school This makes finding employment and financial stability feel out of reach. Nobody chooses to be homeless. Most have a chance at a great life, when they are given the support they need to succeed. 

Check out our virtual tour to learn more about how we’re working with OCH to help youth build a better life.

Friday at 2 PM: Reflection and a hot bath

Honestly, I was relieved when the challenge was over.  

It’s important to remember that this wasn’t a simulation of homelessness. It’s an experience to raise awareness.  I left this experience feeling humbled and thankful for all of the things that I sometimes take for granted. I also felt inspired to keep talking about the housing crisis, and keep fighting for those who need us most. 

To get involved, I strongly urge you to continue the conversation, donate and volunteer for causes you care about, and educate yourself as much as possible.

At GenNext, we often refer to Local Love,” which means we love where we live and tackle social issues to make our community better for everyone. #LocalLove sure did keep me warm during the 24 Hours for Homelessness Challenge!     

This blog was written by Aidan Elizabeth Liebich, Manager of Workplace Philanthropy at United Way East Ontario and a proud GenNext supporter.
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