Last year at about this time, a bunch of wealthy CEO's held a big, glossy, highly promoted event downtown at 201 Portage. They were "sleeping out" for a good cause, to raise awareness about homelessness. They raised a bunch of money, but that wasn't the point. The point was to use the event to promote themselves as caring members of the community.
But the event is far from anything giving CEO's a hint of what it's like to be homeless. As I noted last year, the CEOs get tents, food, security, and even breakfast.
This year: more of the same. Except for one fellow...
Michael Champagne, who is - not - a CEO, will be attending the event. However in a blog post, Michael detailed what he will be consciously denying himself.
Because I want this to be a meaningful experience for myself, I want to spend a night feeling the hard concrete. I will NOT be sleeping in a sleeping bag. I will NOT be accepting any food throughout the entire event. I will NOT make use of any provided bathroom facilities. I will NOT access any provided extra shelter.
Michael should be given some sort of a medal for that.
This will be a very meaningful experience for Michael, as he hopes to accomplish. However for the CEOs, it is a slumber party for 1%'ers and their 1%'er buddies. In the well-lit shadows of a prominent building in this city known for business and commerce, no less. They've barely left their own backyard.
Michael's blog post is quite remarkable, I highly suggest reading it. He mentions he spoke to the folks at Red Road Lodge (where I've been myself a few times for various things) who gave him the down-low on what facing homelessness is really like. Just walking into a place like Red Road (corner of Logan and Main) without CEO Sleepout fanfare gives you a different perspective on things. Not being afraid to get out and walk that block of Logan where Red Road sits, as many Winnipeggers no doubt are, gives you a different perspective.
What the slick campaign for the CEO Sleepout, the media attention and the CJOB appearances the next morning miss are the actual realities of homelessness. The cold concrete. The lack of security. Being shooed out from well-lit places like 201 Portage. Being given a cold shoulder on the street, ignored. No warm coffee in the morning waiting for you.
No cameras when you wake up. No radio interviews about how hard it was to sleep in a sleeping bag on Portage with security standing there watching over you.
The CEOs need to re-think their process on this one. I hope Michael has/will inspire that.
Because it's a shame that Red Road Lodge was denied funding. No amount of money the CEO Sleepout can raise will fight that funding shortfall. Will CEO Sleepout donate half the money they raise to one shelter? Red Road only received $19, 800 last year from the Sleepout. Could the Sleepout have been moved to the parking lot beside Red Road? Maybe, but not as great for PR as 201 Portage.
Meanwhile, at Logan and Main...