CEO Sleepout raises record amount for homeless

Business professionals and local celebrities spend night outdoors

The third annual CEO Sleepout, which took place Thursday, Sept. 26 in downtown Winnipeg, raised close to $200,000 for homeless charities and programs. The Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) puts on the event.

Around 100 CEOs, professionals, and local celebrities (including JD Francis and Ina Sidhu) camped out under the stars in the plaza at 201 Portage Avenue – a stone’s throw from Portage and Main. The fundraising goal for this year’s CEO Sleepout was $150,000, but by late Thursday night organizers’ donations reached $190,000. They expect to break the $200,000 mark.

“Before the Sleepout, our main fundraising mechanism was collection boxes throughout the city, which brought in around $10,000 a year,” recounted Jason Syvixay, a principal organizer of the event. “Now we’ve been able to take that to over $100,000, and even more this year because of the Sleepout.”

All the money raised is given to charities and organizations that seek to alleviate the problem of homelessness in Winnipeg. Siloam Mission has been a recipient of donations from the CEO Sleepout for the past two years, and will benefit from this year’s windfall fundraising effort.

“It’s given us funding stability; we’ve been able to add case management staff and help more people,” said Floyd Perras, executive director of Siloam Mission.

Stefano Grande, executive director the Downtown BIZ, told the Manitoban how the event came to be.

“We explored what other business associations around the world were doing to raise awareness and funding among the corporate community to end homelessness. I came across this CEO Sleepout event in Australia and we adopted it as our own.”

Some prominent members of Winnipeg establishments took part, including members of parliament, the legislature, city council, CEOs of major crown corporations, and leaders of various community and charitable organizations. Two U of M faculty of medicine staff members were among those to camp out: Bruce Martin, the associate dean of student affairs, and Jose Francois, the department head.

Participants arranged their sleeping bags on elevated grassy areas in the glow of a large LED billboard that sits on the north side of the plaza. The weather was mild considering the time of year. Still, participants were sure to bring plenty of warm clothes and sleeping bags as the temperature dipped to 14 degrees overnight.

Chiropractor Keith Pearch was among those camping out. “It’s such a great cause, and actually tons of fun. I’m probably enjoying it too much; it almost feels like camping.”

Ray, a homeless gentleman, was critical of how far the CEO Sleepout conditions were from the actual environment of homelessness. Ray has been on and off the streets for the better part of 20 years.

“Homeless people don’t got sleeping bags, or get coffee brought to them – they ain’t got shit. I’m gonna be sleeping under a bridge and I won’t have no company or all these volunteers waiting on me,” he said.

Nevertheless, the organizers took participants on a “reality walk” to some of the grittier areas of downtown, with stops at Siloam Mission near Higgins and Main, and the Graffiti Gallery in Point Douglas.

“It’s about starting a conversation about homelessness,” said Syvixay. “These people would never have had exposure to this issue [otherwise]. It’s creating connections between community groups that are tackling these issues and the wider business community.”

Fundraising is still underway; donations can be given online.