By: EMILY COOK
In last week’s cold weather many did not even want to walk from their front door to their car, but in the Byward market a team of volunteers chose to stay the night.
Operation Come Home held the 10th anniversary of their 24 Hours of Homelessness event on Jan. 24, outside on William Street. The event lets the group experience what a day might be like in the life of a homeless youth in Ottawa.
“Some people struggle to come out and visit us for five minutes, I struggle to be out here for 24 hours, and youth struggle to be out here for weeks at a time,” said Lynda Franc, representing the staff by staying outside for the full day.
As some people hurry by, only conscious of the cold, the team of volunteers held cardboard signs and told passersby why they are braving the frigid temperatures.
Operation Come Home is a not-for-profit organization that has programs geared towards helping homeless youth off the street. They do this by teaching job skills, finding them housing, and supporting in as many ways as they can.
Every year this event is held to raise awareness for these programs, as well as to make people aware of the number of homeless youth in Ottawa.
On top of panhandling throughout the 24 hours, volunteers filled out pledge forms to support their participation in the event. In addition, Franc said Scotiabank supports the event with $5000 every year.
Volunteer Eric Bollman, DJ at CHEZ 106 radio has participated in this event every year since it began. On this day, he does his regular radio show from the street. Bollman says that every year he notices a spike in awareness, receiving emails from people offering to donate food or clothes to Operation Come Home.
“If you want to prevent that person from becoming a homeless adult, and living their whole lives that way, then the only way you can do it is to nip it in the bud,” said Bollman.
Bollman became a board member at Operation Come Home three years ago, and said he thinks it’s important people become aware there are homeless youth in Ottawa who need places to stay, and need our help.
One volunteer, wrapped up in a sleeping bag, tries to restructure the “shelter” of stand-up cardboard boxes they’d created across the sides of the tent.
This is the second year he has been involved with the 24 Hours of Homelessness event; but he is also a client of Operation Come Home. Having participated in multiple of their programs, such as the Job Action Program (JAP), he said the organization helped him find a job, and get set up in his life.
“When you see someone on the streets don’t go, ‘Oh, get a job’, there’s a reason they’re sitting there and asking for money. It’s not like they want to be there,” said the volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous.
Denise Prue, a second year social services student at Algonquin, also planned to sleep the night on the street. Pulling down her patterned balaclava, she began talking about her passion for homeless youth.
Prue said she finds many people are desensitized to homelessness in Ottawa. She hopes through this event that they will not only raise awareness, but also make people listen to the needs of homeless youth in Ottawa.