Participants in the rebooted Siloam Sleepout got a closer look at the reality of homelessness and the efforts to make it a thing of the past in Winnipeg.
The Siloam Sleepout was held September 26 this year at Siloam Mission and around downtown Winnipeg, raising funds and awareness to help support those experiencing homelessness. It was also about inspiring the community at large to take on the issue.
Approximately 50 participants of the event, however, were too busy to get any real shut-eye — instead, taking in a panel discussion, touring Siloam Mission, walking with the Bear Clan and Downtown BIZ Community Homeless Assistance (CHAT) Team, and taking part in the interactive Blanket Exercise.
How Siloam Mission took a leading role
The Siloam Sleepout event is a reboot of the familiar CEO Sleepout that was first coordinated by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ in 2011, and held outside the convention centre until 2017. More than 500 people have taken part in the event, raising over $1 million.
Luke Thiessen, Siloam Mission Communications Manager, said taking on the event made sense for the organization.
We’ve been a beneficiary of funding from past Sleepout events, and we’ve been a longtime partner with the Downtown BIZ,” he said. “We loved the event and had been involved in the past. While we’ve changed the event slightly, it’s still in the spirit of the original and we’re excited to take it over.”
Siloam Mission is a Christian humanitarian organization that works to alleviate hardship and provide opportunities for change for those affected by homelessness and poverty. All of the 110 downtown shelter beds at Siloam are occupied every night, demonstrating the need for such facilities. The organization also offers meals at its drop-in centre, health-care services, counselling, housing placement and job-readiness programming.
What’s new with the reboot?
With the revised Siloam Sleepout, the goal was to focus the event more on education and inspiration.
The number one change is that we’ve opened it up to for anybody to participate. It’s not just for CEOs and business leaders,” Luke explained. “We’ve also focused programming to be very informative, rather than just about the novelty of spending a night outside and fundraising.”
“We’re trying to make sure people can learn about the issues and feel empowered to be advocates for our community.”
How ACU got involved
This year marked the fourth time ACU has participated in the Sleepout event.
Everyone deserves a safe place to sleep at night, food to eat, and a place to call home,” said Kevin Sitka, ACU’s President and CEO, who has taken part in previous Sleepout events. “And yet, we have neighbours in our community who don’t have a home and don’t feel safe. We know we can work together to change that. ACU is committed to doing our part to eliminate poverty by working with community partners to tackle homelessness and create more affordable housing.”
This year, ACU’s Strategic Partner for Values-Based Banking, Brendan Reimer, took part in the event.
“The Siloam Sleepout was a meaningful opportunity for participants to gain a deeper understanding of poverty and homelessness,” Brendan said. “The courage and resilience of people who’ve experienced homelessness was humbling and impactful, and the compassion and commitment of those walking alongside in support was inspiring — as we saw on the community walks with the Bear Clan and CHAT Team.”
The Blanket Exercise and opening up conversations
One particularly impactful element was the Blanket Exercise. “It’s an experiential activity where we teach participants about the history of colonization in Canada from the perspective of Indigenous peoples,” Luke said.
As part of the Blanket Exercise, a facilitator takes participants through a script which sees their blankets folded (the loss of Indigenous land), moved (representing relocation) or taken away from them (representing death or loss of traditional lands). The exercise ends with only a few survivors remaining on small patches of blanket, representing traditional lands. KAIROS, a Canadian Christian faith-based organization, developed the program in the late 1990s in consultation with the Indigenous community.
It was very impactful,” Brendan said. “The Blanket Exercise and Elder teaching highlighted the incredible damage colonialism, racism, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop have done in our communities. It was an important reminder that homelessness is the result of trauma, system failures and the legacy of cultural genocide. We need to invest our hearts, our minds and our collective resources toward healing, health, homes and relationships.”
Brendan said the event is about starting a conversation.
“Siloam hopes the Sleepout will be a catalyst to motivate people. It’s about helping a broad group of leaders walk away with the conviction that reducing or ending homelessness is possible and that they can be part of making it happen.”