At 11 p.m., in the middle of a cold November, lies a middle-aged man huddled in a Vancouver alley with only a sleeping bag to keep him warm, with a piece of cardboard as a mattress.
This man was BCIT President Don Wright.
On November 15, the Vancouver Covenant House hosted its first Sleep Out: Executive Edition, which involved eighteen high-profile figures from all over the city. The event was staged to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness by having executives sleep outside for one night in order to replicate the experience of being homeless.
Wright, who also sits on the board of the Covenant House, jumped at the opportunity to participate in this event.
“It was pretty much a no-brainer for me because I was already committed to what the organization was doing,” Wright told The Link in a phone interview the morning after the Sleep Out. “When the opportunity came up I just figured, well I’ve got to be there.”
This is the first time the Vancouver Covenant House has participated in the Sleep Out. The event started last year in New York, but since then, cities across North America have been inspired to participate.
While an event like this usually takes months of preparation, Wright revealed that the Covenant House Vancouver put it together in just one month.
“We decided a little late to pursue this, so we were just delighted how successful we were with relatively little advanced notice,” Wright explained.
The original goal was to raise $110,000 with every dollar matched by generous donors. That goal was surpassed: $134,470 was raised – a total of $244,470 with matching donors.
The morning of the interview, Wright calculated $7,000 in funds he had raised on his own, with donations still coming in.
“I just sent emails out to friends and family and business acquaintances. I was quite gratified by the response I got,” said Wright “A lot of people didn’t hesitate for a moment. They would say here’s $1,000, here is $500, here is $200.”
The money was initially raised to fund Crisis Shelter, a unit of the Covenant House that caters to homeless youth between ages 16 and 22. Executives who participated in the Sleep Out raised enough money to fund one whole month of operation expenses at Crisis Shelter.
The event was such a success that Wright is certain it will take place again next year.
“We will need a bigger parking lot, will be my prediction” joked the BCIT president sleepily.
Wright is also positive he will be one of the people camping out next year, as homelessness in Vancouver is an issue dear to his heart.
“I think in a society as rich as ours it is unacceptable that there are people that don’t have access to secure places to live,” said Wright. “I don’t think we can call ourselves a successful society until we have eliminated that.”[hr]