Students prepare their sleeping bags in the front entrance of Central middle school for a Tuesday night sleep out. The members of the school’s Social Justice class chose to sleep outdoors to better understand the plight of the city’s homeless community. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Central students get a taste of sleeping rough

Social Justice class trying to spread awareness to classmates of homelessness

When Silas Waldhaus interviewed people at Our Place, he heard plainly about the plight of the homeless community.

The Central middle school student was among about a dozen schoolmates who camped in the school’s front entrance on a rainy, windy Tuesday night, as a way to enhance their understanding of life on the streets.

“[There’s] not a lot of happy thoughts from them, it doesn’t sound that pleasant at all,” the Grade 8 student said of his conversations, before laying out his sleeping bag on the concrete.

“They’re always on the move and … sometimes the shelters are full, so we wanted to see how that is ourselves. Of course it isn’t like the real thing, we aren’t always being complained about to police and having to move around all the time. But we are sleeping outside in winter and seeing a little bit how it feels so that we can empathize with some people.”

These students from teacher Alan Barwin’s Social Justice class were no doubt the target of questions from their schoolmates Wednesday morning.

Student Talia Collins, who signed up for the class after her experiences with Me to We, echoed Waldhaus’ comments from the interviews at Our Place.

“Life on the street is not fun, it’s really rough. They don’t get treated fairly at all,” she said, adding of the sleepover, “I think it’s really important for us to do it. I’m excited to learn about what it’s going to be like.”

She hoped that through the class’s social media pages, website and magazine that they’ll be able to spread awareness of the situation.

Barwin has run the Social Justice class for a number of years now and facilitates real-life and often serious discussions amongst his students.

“Because we have My Place across the road from us and a lot of the kids live downtown, we see people on the streets,” he said. “In our discussions people wanted to know more; why are people there, what issues do they face and how we can help them.”

One student came up with the idea of sleeping outdoors as a way to get a sense of what those less fortunate go through.

VicPD Sgt. Shawn Robson dropped by the school Tuesday night to make sure the students were OK and offer his verbal support.

“I’m super impressed by the initiative the students have put out here and the teachers and the parents who are offering their support,” he said. “Anything that the kids can bring to the table to [help the] process of dealing with homelessness in the future is a fantastic idea.”

The next edition of the magazine will document the students’ experience and their conversations with police on the issue. Barwin said he’s proud of the students for their desire to learn more about the issue, talk to people on the street and to understand and help.

editor@vicnews.com

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