W hile spending a night sleeping under the stars at 201 Portage Ave. might prove surreal, the CEO Sleepout hopes to spur in-depth conversations among Winnipeg's corporate sector on how to combat homelessness.
The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ will host its fourth sleepout on Sept. 18 and so far 148 participants have signed up, the BIZ announced Thursday. The list of names includes local business owners, media personalities, municipal, provincial and federal politicians and four mayoral candidates. (A full list can be found at changeforthebetter.org.)
Last year's event raised slightly more than $200,000, money that was divided among five non-profits: Graffiti Art Programming Inc., Siloam Mission, Red Road Lodge, Artbeat Studio and Macdonald Youth Services. The agencies used the money to give Winnipeg's homeless paying jobs.
Brian Ironstand and Ashli Roberts, who each spent time on the streets, both benefited from the sleepout grants. They now live in two of the Red Road Lodge transitional living centre's 44 rooms.
For the past four months, Ironstand has been getting paid to help refinish furniture at the lodge, thanks to the BIZ's $32,400 donation raised at last year's sleepout. He loves carpentry and appreciates the opportunity to stay busy.
"I think I'm doing pretty good for myself," Ironstand said after taking a break from sanding one of dozens of chairs for a new street beautification project. "I'm just trying to work here and set a positive example for other people."
Ironstand was adopted at 12 and shifted among three foster families. He studied at Penn State, but didn't finish his history degree. He registered for the Marines instead, but was turned away when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Then he lived in a group home in Brandon as he sought treatment, but wound up homeless in Winnipeg before he started staying at Red Road Lodge six months ago.
"I want to be busy and just help out and work. I used to help out in a negative way and this place has helped me in a positive way," said Ironstand, who previously struggled with alcohol abuse.
After Ironstand sands down the chairs, Roberts takes over, painting and decorating them -- with the notion of freedom in mind.
"My inspiration for the chair project is just painting the history of my homeless experience on chairs. I'm representing emotions or people that had great meaning to me that I met along the way," Roberts said. Roberts studied fine art at the University of Manitoba for three months before she became homeless.
"I would sell art instead of panhandling," she said. "I have a lot of ideas and I'm never going to run out."
Thanks to her honorarium from Red Road Lodge, Roberts can better provide for her family of five while continuing to pursue her passion.
Beverly Burkard, the executive director of Red Road Lodge, has seen how a few extra dollars can immensely help those less fortunate. She said her clients' unemployment insurance gives them just enough to survive. "So by us being able to offer $200 a month, people can work, they can have some pride, they can have some activity and they can start to learn structure," Burkard said.
The money allotted to Red Road Lodge will help pay workers contributing to street cleaning and beautification projects in the neighbourhood between Alexander Avenue and Higgins Avenue, said Burkard.
"For these folks to think, 'well I want to go back to work,' where are they going to go? Tim Hortons? That's too fast-paced," she said. "When they're ready, we give them the opportunity to try, we're supportive and they really can't fail.
"We're trying to concentrate on revitalization from Alexander up to Higgins so that we can really start to show the city that there is skill here, there is initiative here, there are people with determination here."