Rowan Miller slept outside Boston Pizza Thursday night, one of nine people raising awareness for homelessness in St. Thomas.
A few years ago she didn’t have a choice.
Miller, a St. Thomas native, was homeless for months after high school. She stayed where she could, often with friends as far away as Fort Erie. Miller permanently returned to St. Thomas only with help from the YWCA, who gave her a place to rebound.
“I ended up living in the YWCA residence for almost a year,” Miller said.
“So this hit really close to home.”
It was the second year for the Sleepless in our City fundraiser, organized by the local United Way. It asked notable people in the community to sleep outside in their cars Thursday night to Friday morning, raising funds and awareness at the same time.
Last year, they drew two participants. This year, they had nine, including local MP Karen Vecchio.
“Bringing the conversation up as we have in the last 24 hours has been phenomenal,” Vecchio said.
“People don’t realize what’s happening in our own backyards. Homelessness is a really big issue.”
That’s no different in St. Thomas than anywhere else. The YWCA estimates some 100 city youths are homeless on any given night, often staying in temporary residences and struggling to find steady employment.
“There were times I had to find a friend’s house to stay at,” Miller said. “There wasn’t really the option to go back (home).”
United Way is in the middle of its annual campaign, which wraps up at the end of March. It raised roughly $7,500 from the Sleepless in our City event before Thursday night. The agency’s Barbara Patterson said other donations came in overnight.
“Our annual campaign is underway still. It’s going really well,” she said.
“Still working away at it.”
Among the overnight sleepers were Sean Dyke, chair of this year’s United Way campaign; Mike Kerkvliet, with the Small Business Enterprise Centre; and four students (or recent students) of Fanshawe College.
Miller and her friend, Carly Kocins, were part of the Fanshawe contingent. They were introduced to each other through the YWCA and eventually moved in together, into a more stable renting situation.
“It was through (the YWCA) that I was able to get back onto my feet,” Miller said. “Get back into the working world, go to school.
“If it wasn’t for the YWCA, I’d still be on the streets.”