“Rieko and I made a decision back in 1994, just after our first son was born, that she would leave the business world and invest her time and energy in our children. That choice to become a stay-at-home mum was one of the most important decisions of our married life. We believe that decision is why we are super close to our kids, our kids’ friends and their families today.” —Nigel Bennett
Back in 2015, a mutual friend of Dave Ash and myself invited us to join him in Covenant House Vancouver’s Sleep Out: Executive Edition. That was the first time I’d experienced what it’s like to actually “live” on the street. I was so impacted by what I saw that I couldn’t sleep at all that night. By 2 a.m., I was pulling Jackie Leonard, their Associate Manager of Individual Giving, to the side to find out more about the services Covenant House was providing to youth at risk.
I found out that Covenant House Vancouver is where young people aged 16 to 24 go when they have nowhere else to go and no one left to turn to for help. There they can find shelter when they’ve been forced out of their homes or when they’ve grown too old for foster care. Shelter when they’re fleeing from physical, emotional or sexual abuse. They can also access a continuum of care through the daily drop-in center, the 59-bed residential crisis program, the 25-bed transitional living program, the drug and mental health program, and life skills training.
You might doubt that there’s a need for such services in a city known for being one of the most desirable places to live in the world. But let’s look at the numbers for 2017. Of the 1,168 unique youth who accessed Covenant House services, 57% were young men and 43% were young women. They served, on average, 110 youth every day.
• 70% had witnessed family violence
• 50% struggled with substance misuse
• 39% suffered from mental illness
• 33% reported sexual exploitation (some are victims of human trafficking)
• 25% were indigenous
• 25% indirectly identified as LGBTQ.
The need for these services is growing significantly because of two crises we’ve all heard about: opioids and Vancouver’s housing market. Last year they helped 399 young people in the crisis program, but they had to turn away 412.
I believe that what Covenant House does really has nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with people’s lives. Not only the lives of homeless youth on Vancouver’s streets (check out this 3-minute video to catch highlights from some of their true stories). But also the lives of the people who get involved in their Sleep Outs (you can catch me and Rieko at one of these in this 2-minute video).
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I care about Vancouver’s homeless youth. My wife Rieko and I have raised about $65,000 for Covenant House through their Sleep Out: Executive Edition event over the last 3 years, and I plan to continue to support them through proceeds from the sale of my book Take That Leap: Risking It All For What Really Matters. That’s why I’ve invited Jackie to speak at my book launch on April 7th.
Every little bit will make a difference to Vancouver’s homeless youth.