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Sleeping on the 'streets' of Memorial for youth homelessness

Participants of Sleep Out 120.

By Laura Woodford

Sleeping on the streets in March in Newfoundland and Labrador with nothing more than a sleeping bag, pillow and some cardboard is not everyone's idea of comfort. But that's just the point. Five social work students from the Class of 2013 and other students from a variety of disciplines did just that on the St. John's campus March 29 to raise awareness of youth homelessness and affordable housing issues.

Part of a larger community initiative called Sleep Out 120, which includes students, social workers and community leaders sleeping out on the streets of St. John's, the campus event was initiated to help raise awareness within the Memorial community. Participants are sponsored as part of the initiative. Last year the five-day campaign, which happens in the last week of April, raised more than $15,000 for their benefiting organization Choices for Youth. The money raised this year will be awarded to Naomi Centre, Choices for Youth and Waypoints.

Ashley Gosse, third-year social work student and campaign leader of this year's Sleep Out 120, co-ordinated the campus event.

"We decided to have a campaign on campus because the students at Memorial are the province's future leaders," said Ms. Gosse. "They are future social workers, nurses, politicians and community leaders who will one day have the ability to make change within our society. Hopefully, sleeping out on campus will help people understand the realities of living homeless and visualize the real struggles that youth in this province face on a daily basis."

Since no food, money or cell phones were allowed and disclosing their whereabouts to family or friends was forbidden, participants had to rely on the generosity of the community to provide food.

Kim Kelly, bachelor of social work student services co-ordinator, joined the students this year.

"The students have shown great leadership through their commitment to this selfless act to give to their community," said Ms. Kelly. "As a member of the team I was happy to sleep out on the "streets" of Memorial in the hopes we can remind others of the issues facing youth today and how we must build relationships, strengthen communities and partner for change."

You can support the campaign by donating to the participants at www.sleepout120.com. Ultimately, the organizers and participants say the goal of Sleep Out 120 is education and awareness. Their hope is that this campaign inspires people to start learning and talking about the importance of more affordable and supportive housing in this province.

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