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Homeless for one long night

Seven Grade 9-10 students and three adults spent the night at Marine Peace Park, raising about $1,850 for homeless youth.
Connor Jones and Dylan Nielsen camp out to raise funds and awareness for homeless youth.

White caps were dancing on the lake Friday morning, choreographed by a strong wind that had blown through the night.

The wind, the drop in temperature and a rain shower, added to the realism of what it means to be homeless and sleeping without shelter.

Seven Grade 9-10 students and three adults spent the night at Marine Peace Park, raising about $1,850 for homeless youth.

“It was cold out there and I was so impressed with the kids,” said Mayor Nancy Cooper, who spent the night with the students and commends the Salmon Arm Secondary Jackson Campus leadership group for what they’re doing.

“I’m very cold, very sore and thankful for what I have,” said Saro Stevens on Friday morning. “And I have a new understanding and respect for homeless people.”

Paige Saitz, one of the event organizers agreed.

“I’m surprised homeless people can do that,” she said. “I got wet, even with layers (of clothing).”

Cooper says the Friday morning debriefing was quite profound.

“They came prepared; they knew their parents knew where we were and the RCMP were checking up on us, so we knew we were safe,” she says, noting the kids realized that homeless youth are without support and no doubt feel scared and going to sleep wondering what food they will be able to find the next day.

“Just their realization of the contrast was really something to see,” Cooper said. “Some of them got emotional coming to that realization and seemed more committed to helping their peers. That hit home for me.”

Teacher Marie Petersen said the students also realized they were going home to a warm shower and a clean bed, something kids on the streets would be doing without.

Neskonlith member Gerry Thomas made a surprise and welcome visit Friday morning.

He explained how many aboriginals had slept in the same location, cutting armholes out of large plastic bags for cover, sleeping on newspapers and bathing in the lake.

Peterson was moved by the fact the kids who attended the event had no previous connections to each other but were committed to the cause.

“The personal impact for me was it became so obvious they were overcoming the social barriers that keep homeless people from integrating into society,” she said.

Funds raised are going to Vancouver’s Covenant House because Salmon Arm youth sometimes get help from the organization.