Students gain perspective wearing another’s shoes

On Feb. 25, over 200 local high school students braved the cold to sleep outside and raise awareness about homelessness in the community. In its second year, Strip the Streets challenged youth to put themselves in the shoes of the homeless while collecting donations to fund supportive programs.

“It’s always just seemed to be our duty to do something like this and to make the change whereever possible,” said Breanna Koehler, a grade 11 student at Forest Heights Collegiate Institute.

In helping organize the event, Koehler was part of the school’s outreach group that met with partner high schools and informed students of the different aspects of Strip the Streets and prepared them for what they would need for the night.

A total of 15 high schools were involved in the event. Elisa Dorman, a grade 12 student at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, also took up a leadership role by connecting with area businesses and politicians to spread the word of their initiative.

“I think that when I see something like homelessness, you’re not okay with it,” she said. “It is cool to see something like this come together.”

Organizers Arden Court, a teacher at Forest Heights, and Scott Kemp, who teaches at Cameron Heights, commented on how much the initiative has grown from the group approximately half the size last year.

Court explained that the idea came from a group of students who, after attending a We Day event in 2009, decided they had to find a way to improve their community.

The ability to involve an unlimited number of students was also an appealing factor. “Not every student can afford the $5,000 outreach trip to Kenya but anybody can come here and take part and make the change locally,” said Court.

Although Kitchener and Waterloo are rather small cities, the number of people affected by homelessness is still significant. “There’s 1,000 to 1,200 people between the ages of 15 and 25 in the region who are homeless, not necessarily living on the streets but who don’t have a place where they have their things and they can go each night,” explained Dorman.

Apart from raising awareness through a rally hosted in the late afternoon at Kitchener city hall and the march into Waterloo, the students also learned a great deal through experiencing the elements and meals from Out of the Cold programs.

“I remember lying there last year and being so cold at night and just being so mad that we’ve let this continue to happen,” said Koehler.

The fundraising aspect of Strip the Streets provides immediate help for those who find sleeping outside a reality.

“Each school is committed to raising a thousand dollars so it will make a difference to the homeless,” Dorman explained. In a followup press release from the teaching co-ordinators, they expressed that donations are still being accepted at Forest Heights and Lutherwood high schools until Mar. 31. The total funds will be divided amongst the local organizations ROOF, Safe Haven and Argus.

The contributions these students were making to the local community was acknowledged by Waterloo mayor Brenda Halloran who, in addressing the students as they ate dinner at the Royal Canadian Legion in Uptown, said, “You are going to be the change that we need in this world.”