Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Sleepout an eye-opener for CEOs; donations exceed expectations

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One hundred of the city’s movers and shakers spent a chilly evening sleeping outside at Portage and Main Thursday night to raise cash and awareness for Winnipeg’s homeless.

The community and business leaders were taking part in the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s third annual CEO Sleepout, which supports programs to get people off the streets and into decent jobs and housing.

Along with huddling together in sleeping bags at the historic intersection, the CEOs, politicians and media personalities were treated to soup and coffee from a Salvation Army truck and toured local agencies serving the homeless.

Their eyes were opened during a midnight tour of Siloam Mission, a sort of one-stop shop for the homeless, providing food, shelter, medical services, art programs and help finding jobs.

Together they helped raise $191,644 to employ people who are homeless. Organizers had set a fundraising goal of $150,000. Now, they're shooting to shatter the $200,000 mark.

"I am personally overwhelmed by the generosity of Winnipeggers and the passion shown by our CEOs and community leaders who rallied around this event and this cause," said Stefano Grande, Downtown BIZ executive director, who also slept out.

"I can feel this is just the start of real change happening in terms of homelessness and poverty issues in our city."

Siloam’s executive director, Floyd Perras, who took part in the sleepout, told the visitors the most important things the mission provides are dignity and a sense of community.

Throughout much of the night, the participants, instead of sleeping, chatted with a trickle of homeless Winnipeggers who dropped by the event in front of 201 Portage Ave. for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.

Portage Tory MLA Ian Wishart said he survived sleeping under the stars, but the event drove home the importance of providing shelter to the most needy.

"It makes the case that everybody needs housing," Wishart, his party’s housing critic, said this morning. "One night is nothing. If we did this every night, what would we be like then?"

A homeless man who gave his name as "Brad" offered the event participants a glimpse of the harsh reality of life on the streets, saying he and his ailing wife survive by sleeping in local parking garages, even during brutally cold winters.

He described himself as a "beggar" as opposed to a "panhandler" and said he appreciates the work done by the downtown BIZ to help find housing and employment for the homeless. He added his Christian faith is one of the few things that sustains him in his life on the streets.

The sleepout is over, but donations can still be made at www.changeforthebetter.org. Just click the "Donate Now" button under the photo of your favorite CEO or celebrity, including Free Press columnist Doug Speirs.

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