March 5th, 2020 marked my fourth year participating in the 360ºExperience. My partners for the night were OPP officer Kerry Schmidt and Rob, a youth who is also a client of 360°kids. Rob lives the 360ºExperience every day.
Our first destination was Eva’s Place, a harm reduction shelter in North York. On the bus ride to Finch station Kerry streamed an interview with Rob, a 24 year-old high school graduate, who found himself homeless due to a breakdown in family relationships. We arrived at Eva’s, toured the shelter, shot some more video and were about to move on to our next location when Rob intervened:
“Why don’t you guys come to my place and stay over? I’m sure my friends won’t mind.” He added, “we have a couch and some extra space.”
Rob described the abandoned house that he and seven other youth shared in Richmond Hill. Kerry and I were totally amazed by his offer: here was a homeless youth offering to share his accommodations with us. Rob called ahead to ensure his friends would be ok with us visiting.
Around midnight we arrived at a boarded up house that was dark and quiet. We followed Rob inside, fumbling with our cell phones for a source of light. The indoor air was damp and moldy with a hint of smoke. “We don’t go downstairs,” he said, and he pointed at steps leading to a pile of trash. Upstairs we found the shared living space. In the first room was a large tent that a young couple was sharing. In what was once the living room, were three more tents and an old couch. The next room was used by Rob and he was proud to point out that his tent lay over a mattress. Close by was another sleeping bag, more trash, empty cans and bottles. The temperature outside was -4℃ and inside? No electricity. No water. No heat. This was so sad. I had seen these youth at HomeBase but had no idea they lived in such a rundown place. I made the connection: their daily trek to HomeBase was essential for showers, meals and warmth.
A few group members shared some details about their circumstances. One of the girls had court issues to deal with. One of the boys was enrolled in college and had a test the next day. Everyone was having problems securing steady work. There was hope knowing that they felt safer together. There was hope knowing that each was seeking work and trying to pay their own way. Eventually, each of the youth said ‘good-night.’
It was 2am and I was trying to sleep on the couch while Kerry unrolled his sleeping bag on the floor. Surprisingly, the house didn’t feel too cold, however, it was hard for us to sleep given our surroundings. The 7 youth snored in unison. All but one slept on the hard floor.
By 4am, we gave up trying to sleep. By 5:15am Rob was up and ready to join us as we made our way back to HomeBase for breakfast.
The unexpected turn of events?
“These youth who had so little – a space on the floor and a couch – had shared it with us. We were humbled by their generosity.”
Check out behind the scene videos from this event by Clicking Here.
If you want to help youth who are just trying to get back on their feet then please click here and donate to the Dan’s 360ºExperience.