Covenant House Sleep Out: Student Edition

For the past 9 years our grade nine students have chosen to support Covenant House for their community service project. Each year students fundraise towards Sleep Out: Student Edition – they sleep outside for one night, so vulnerable youth don’t have to.

In those 9 years our students have raised over $82,000 for Covenant House to support housing, counselling, programming and food. This is the most any school in Vancouver has ever raised! We even got a shout out from actor Ryan Reynolds two years for the students incredible success!

February 22nd, 2023 

Last night went down as the coldest Sleep Out we’ve ever done – minus 4 but definitely colder with the windchill! The grade nines really appreciated that they could come inside to a warm school and yummy breakfast. They also have a greater appreciation of what homeless youth would be experiencing on a cold February night.

The grade nines spent January and February fundraising and spreading awareness of the work Covenant House (our partners) does with homeless youth in Vancouver. Their efforts paid off to the tune of $7,645 and growing! Well done students and thank you donors! 

Kari, Isaac and Finn also recorded a podcast with Covenant House this morning and Noam is creating a short video about the experience. We’ll post those initiatives as they go live.

For the first time since Covid 19 the students volunteered at Covenant House sorting clothes and talking to the youth outreach workers. We then split into small groups and walked around the city with only a toonie to buy dinner. We took public transit back to Bowen to sleep outside behind IPS. In our debrief last night, the students were mature and thoughtful discussing their observations and emotions during the walkabout downtown. Below are some of the reflections they wrote about their experience. As you can see, this was an eye opening and worthwhile experience to build empathy and awareness for others in different circumstances. 

Thanks everyone for your support!

Listen to the Under One Roof podcast featuring our students Finn and Isaac.

A brief history of our Covenant House relationship

Taken from an interview with Jennifer Henrichsen

Back in 2015, we asked the grade 9’s what they wanted to do for their community service project. h. In the beginning they said they wanted to go to the downtown eastside and give out sandwiches. I said “that’s a good start, but you give a man a fish and he eats for a day, you give him a rod and he eats for a lifetime”. So I said “how are you going to make a difference for more than just a day and a full belly?”

We decided to approach Covenant House, and we had our first Sleep Out: Student Edition. Covenant House had done the “Executive Edition” for some years, but they were just starting their youth program. Jessica Slater, (Bowen Island Community School Principal Scott Slater’s wife), works there. I called and said, “I’m calling from IPS on Bowen Island”, and she said “I live on Bowen Island!”

Jessica came in and we organized the whole project, where the grade nine class has an immersive experience downtown. They get their last food on the ferry at noon and they go to Covenant House downtown and volunteer their time to sort clothes. This is all they can do because of privacy issues. They work for three hours or so. I then give them a toonie for dinner and they have to find $2 worth of food, or pickup whatever they find on the ground, but they can’t busk or beg. There are groups of three kids with one teacher and we walk around — it’s March in the rain. Everybody knows where the cheapest food is and it’s actually at Costco. You can get a jumbo hotdog and a refillable drink for under $2. It’s amazing because when we debriefed this I asked “who did you see down there?”. They talked about a First Nations family feeding their whole family for less than $2 each, drinking pop. You can tell there are a fair amount of down and out people at the Costco concession.

Some pooled their money, got a loaf of bread and a jar of Nutella and they just ate Nutella sandwiches all night. $2 is all the money they had. By the time they walk back up the hill to IPS and set up their beds behind the school, they’re cold, they’re wet, they’re hungry and they’re tired. Then we have a fire and we debrief. We sleep out on the gravel and then the next morning they reflect on their experience in a quiet moment before I feed them a pancake breakfast.

To a certain degree it’s like being downtown, this is the thing that we talk about with Jessica. There’s a huge percentage of kids couch surfing, they’ve been kicked out of their own house, they’re still trying to get through school, they’re the uncounted homeless. In the youth department of course there’s a lot of girls that are uncounted because they are not allowed on the street because their pimp has them. It’s all sort of hard knocks. I don’t think our kids are super sheltered, but to a certain degree they are. I think our parents are quite aware of how privileged they are and there’s a lot of talk within homes.

“It’s not a scare tactic — “let’s drive down to the downtown eastside” — it’s an empathy tactic. “What does it look like to grow up in foster care? What does it look like when you have nowhere to go and your stepdad has kicked you out of the house?” No kid wants to live on the street— it’s either an addiction problem or a mental health problem and they simply have no support and no choices.”

We talk about the kids that might be on the street beforehand, I want the empathy to be there already as to why people would be down there. So when the Covenant House representative comes to Bowen and they talk to the students on a Wednesday, we sit and talk and brainstorm. We look at crisis lines and we talk about where to find help if you need help. Where do you go? Covenant House is a place to go if you need help. We just talk about how thin the line is between privilege and all of a sudden that’s gone. There are other shelters on the North Shore, but Covenant House is well funded because they are all over the world.


Jennifer Henrichsen, Assistant Head and the grade nines

Reflections 2023

“I’ve experienced, for one night, some of the problems of a homeless youth but I don’t really know the emotions hidden inside someone. A perfect way to think about this is like rock climbing. I have a safety harness and they are climbing free solo. Though I do not want to fall down, I can still take risks knowing that they would lead to minor consequences. However, for them, they can’t make mistakes- the consequences are so much higher.”

“I found it interesting that small acts of kindness that we witnessed seemed 10x more powerful. It’s like if someone shines a light in a dark room you notice the effect of the light way more.”

“I do not feel good. I never do in the mornings, but I really feel it now. I’m still cold. I’m tired. I’m uncomfortable and there is no way I can go to school and feel confident in my abilities. If I was homeless I’d feel this everyday… I am not going to forget tonight.”

“When we were first getting into our sleeping bags, I realized I wasn’t warming up and I felt a kind of dread. I kind of assumed it would be warm enough to be comfortable but I took that feeling for granted. I cannot imagine how that night was for someone without a sleeping bag.”

“I felt almost hopeless but also motivated to try and help and make a difference. Even though I might not be able to make a big impact – starting small is always something.”