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A student's view of homelessness

Morgan Wienberg huddled into a relatively comfortable-looking doorway and settled in for the evening. It was Monday night (a school night) and the FH Collins student had decided to sleep on the street.

Morgan Wienberg huddled into a relatively comfortable-looking doorway and settled in for the evening.

It was Monday night (a school night) and the FH Collins student had decided to sleep on the street.

Intentionally homeless from Monday until Friday morning this week as part of the Couch Surfing Challenge, Wienberg had chosen to forgo the couch and spend her first night on the street.

But the entrance just off of Second Avenue didn’t turn out to be a very good place to spend the night.

There was a bright light in the doorway and traffic roared down the busy street beside her.

She didn’t have a sleeping bag or blankets, just layers of shirts and sweaters.

The carpet on the doorstep, which had looked so inviting at first, was wet and it wasn’t long before Wienberg’s legs and feet were soaked.

As temperatures began to dip, the light rain turned into snow.

“The only time I’ve ever felt that cold was after snowmobiling for five hours in minus-40-degree weather,” said Wienberg.

A few people passed by, stopped to look at the 17-year-old girl shivering on the doorstep and then walked away.

The Couch Surfing Challenge is an event organized to focus public attention on the problem of hidden homelessness.

Just because you don’t see many people sleeping on the streets every night, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem with homelessness in the city.

Challenge participants temporarily put themselves in the position of those who are forced to search for somewhere warm to sleep each night.

For four nights, they are not allowed to go home and must sleep in a different location each evening.

Participants can stay with friends or family, but nothing can be organized beforehand.

Beds are off-limits, but sofas, hammocks and floors are fine.

Mayor Bev Buckway, Green Party Candidate John Streicker, NDP Leader Elizabeth Hansen and Nakai Theatre’s artistic director David Skelton are also participating in the event.

On Monday afternoon, Wienberg, the youngest participant in the challenge, was at the Whitehorse Public Library.

She was frantically working away at one of the computers, trying to finish her homework before the library closed for the night.

“It’s so much more difficult when you’re in school,” said Wienberg.

“And I take school very seriously, so I’m stressing out a little.”

Wienberg chose to participate in the event because she is a member of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and felt she had a responsibility to give a student’s perspective.

Some of her classmates have had to couch surf for various reasons, some of them in Grades 9 and 10.

The older students often get their own apartments, she said.

But this causes other problems.

As students work more to be able to make rent, they have less time for their studies and usually end up falling behind.

“It’s not just when you’re sleeping,” said Wienberg.

“During the day you’re thinking, ‘I’m not just going to go home. I don’t have a place to go where I can relax and study.’”

On Monday night, Wienberg went to Tim Hortons to work on her homework before trying to sleep on the street.

The experience has taught her about a lot of the things we normally take for granted, she said.

“You see it’s snowing out and think it must be cold, but then you walk from your house to your car or just down the street,” said Wienberg.

“It’s so different from being soaking wet and not having anywhere to go ... it’s a way different experience.”

Wienberg didn’t tell her mother that she’d be participating in the week-long challenge until the night before.

“I knew that she would be worrying and bugging me about it,” said Wienberg.

“I just didn’t want her to bug me, basically.”

“Of course I worry about her, but this is important to her,” said Wienberg’s mother, Karen.

“And I trust her instincts and I trust the town we live in.”

After an hour and a half trying to sleep in the doorway on Monday night, Wienberg’s leg started to go numb.

The temperature was still dropping and she began to worry about getting sick and missing school.

She walked to the Alpine Bakery, where she has a part-time job, and waited for another hour until the bakers arrived for work.

After getting the blood flowing through her frozen limbs, Wienberg crashed on the bakery’s couch.

Where was she planning to sleep Tuesday night?

As of Monday afternoon, Wienberg still didn’t know. She was too worried about not getting her homework done on time.

But she did have a number of friends she could call.

She just hoped that one of them would have a couch to spare.

Contact Chris Oke at