With $3 in his pocket and two bus tickets to his name, Jadyn Dragasevich, 16, had the experience of his life struggling through a night of homelessness.
The Young Leaders’ initiative, which was founded by 360Kids, saw Jadyn, Eric Lowry, 16, and two girls from a local high school spend a night on the streets. The team, along with a youth outreach worker, travelled from 360Kids headquarters in Richmond Hill to Blue Door Shelter in Newmarket where they met with the people who run the shelter to gain insight into the problems that plague youth homelessness and ways the community can help. From there, they were expected to make their way back to headquarters by bus – a distance of approximately 20km.
“That wasn’t an easy feat,” said Jadyn. It took the team over three hours to return because they didn’t have any knowledge of the bus system – something Jadyn said is a very common problem for homeless youth. And it wasn’t just three hours on the bus; the team spent most of that time walking the dark streets.
Jadyn was determined to make it an authentic experience so none of his teammates were allowed to use their phones to help find their way. And their chaperon was given strict instructions not to aid them unless it was a question of safety.
“We loitered at Tim Hortons for an hour, trying not to get kicked out,” said Jadyn, “because that is something a homeless youth would do for warmth on a cold night.”
“It made me feel lucky to have the resources I do,” added Eric.
By the time they returned to 360Kids, they had only a few hours before sunup. They were given a sleeping bag and tarp to make their own shelter in the backyard. “It was cold and noisy with cars and nobody really got any sleep,” said Jadyn, “it was a realistic simulation.”
To complete the experience, Jadyn and Eric attended school the next day completely exhausted. “The tiring boredom and loneliness of the night are feelings I will never forget,” Jadyn said.
“The event really opened my eyes to the issue that is present right under our noses,” said Eric. “It is incredible the amount of challenges homeless youth face on a day-to-day basis.”
This charitable event was co-chaired by Jadyn and a student from Aurora High School. It is an extension of a program 360Kids started last year with high-profile community leaders such as Old Boy and Chief of Police Eric Jolliffe ’76 and Richmond Hill Mayor, Dave Barrow.
In addition to recruiting members from York Region’s independent and private schools, Jadyn was also responsible for developing the scenarios for the night and a promotional video.
Jadyn was approached by executive director, Michael Braithwaite, and resource development officer, Brittney Wilson, in December after the work he and two classmates did last year on a civics project. Their student documentary won them a $5,000 donation to 360Kids from the Youth Philanthropy Initiative.
The goal of the event was to raise awareness of youth homelessness and how hidden it is among middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods. “The more I looked into 360Kids, the more I discovered that there is a major issue in York Region,” explained Eric. “I was eager to fundraise for such an amazing cause.”
“It has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my life so far,” Jadyn said of his night living on the streets. “Getting to work with community leaders has been an absolute pleasure and an experience that will last a lifetime,” he added of the entire three-month endeavour.
More than 30 York Region schools participated in the one-night event, held March 26, and together raised over $27,000. St. Andrew’s staff and students contributed $1,400 of the funds raised. The money donated supports the development of a 360Kids facility that is already underway in Richmond Hill. It will be transitional housing – a place for homeless youth to call home, go to school daily, take resume-building courses, and explore future employment options. Ultimately, it will turn their lives around and point them in the right direction.
“I look forward to motivating others to experience a night on the streets,” said Jadyn who hopes to bring this event back again next year. “I want this to be in the school calendar every year.”
Story by Nicolette Fleming