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Hope, opportunities for the vulnerable

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Kevin Anderson, North End artist (foreground), sets up his series of artwork called Street Life! in Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief’s (background) office at the Manitoba Legislative Building. Anderson is part of the campaign to raise awareness and create opportunities for those living on the street.

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Kevin Anderson, North End artist (foreground), sets up his series of artwork called Street Life! in Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief’s (background) office at the Manitoba Legislative Building. Anderson is part of the campaign to raise awareness and create opportunities for those living on the street. Photo Store

Tomorrow, on Sept. 18, I will be joining more than 150 CEOs, community leaders, and members of the media at the 4th annual CEO Sleepout to raise awareness about homelessness.  

Organized by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, participants camp out at Portage and Main overnight to learn about homelessness and to raise funds to create employment opportunities for those living on the streets. Since 2011, this event has fundraised nearly half a million dollars to provide housing, supports and jobs.   

In addition to the annual CEO Sleepout, the Downtown BIZ runs the Change for the Better program year-round to help social agencies such as Graffiti Art Programming, Red Road Lodge and Siloam Mission employ their participants.  Many individuals have since returned to school or found permanent jobs. Some of our most vulnerable citizens have been given hope and a chance to contribute back to our community in a positive way.  

Kevin Anderson is one of those people.  In 2012, Kevin was homeless. Today, in addition to finding employment, he has followed his dreams of becoming an artist. He was commissioned by Red Road Lodge to produce a series of pieces examining his life as a homeless individual.  

In the weeks leading up to the sleepout, I was proud to exhibit Kevin’s series of 10 original drawings called Street Life! in my office at the Manitoba legislature.

"Art used to be an escape, but now it is a pursuit," Kevin says.  

His story is an example of the potential in our community.  

After speaking at the sleepout press conference launch in early August, I had planned to have breakfast at Neechi Commons with Downtown BIZ’s Jason Syvixay.  What started as a playful challenge over Twitter to make this a free breakfast on me turned into a fundraiser. I invited people to join us for a bannock breakfast and in return, encouraged them to donate to the sleepout. Over 50 people showed up, raising over $700 and raising awareness on the issue.

Homelessness can only be addressed through the shared efforts of our entire community. The amount of attention that has been brought to the issue of homelessness, through the annual CEO Sleepout, is exceptional. It’s a practical example that with the right supports, the right initiatives, and the spirit of generosity, we can show people that they can overcome the hardships and challenges that homelessness brings.

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