Trying on homelessness

The next time a politician comes knocking at your door, it might not be in search of votes. They might be looking for a place to crash.

The next time a politician comes knocking at your door, it might not be in search of votes.

They might be looking for a place to crash.

For the next four nights, Mayor Bev Buckway, Green Party representative John Streicker and NDP Leader Elizabeth Hansen, among others, will be taking up the Couch Surfing Challenge.

The event is intended to raise awareness about relative homelessness and start a public dialogue, said Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society of Yukon executive director Brooke Alsbury, one of the event’s organizers.

“One of the things we notice about couch surfing is that none or us are that far away from that experience,” she said.

“You can hold a full-time job and still not be able to pay rent, or lose your job and not be able to meet your mortgage.”

Participants will experience how disruptive it can be to not have a permanent home.

It’s difficult to hold down a job when you’re constantly moving and trying to live in someone else’s space, said Alsbury.

The event is intended to raise awareness ahead of Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, which begins October 12.

Recent unofficial surveys conducted by groups throughout Whitehorse showed there are at least 80 individuals living with inadequate housing.

Event participants will try to find a different place to sleep for each of the next four nights.

Beds are off-limits, but participants can sleep on couches, sleeping mats, cushions, hammocks or whatever else their host can provide.

Organizers admit that it won’t simulate the full experience.

Safety is often a big concern among Whitehorse’s homeless.

But organizers hope the event will get people thinking and talking about the issue.

“A lot of people have been very interested,” said Buckway.

“A few have already offered me a place to stay.”

The politicians will probably have a strong network of friends and family willing and able to take them in.

But this is where many people begin their descent into homelessness, before they wear out their welcome and slide into despair.

“I’m ready for the sleep depravation,” said Buckway.

Buckway admits she had to give the program some thought because she is in the middle of a campaign for re-election.

The fact that participants are able to use their vehicles was the deciding factor, she said.

“You could also sleep in your car,” offered organizer Mark Kelly.

Kelly had lived in his truck in Vancouver, although he never considered himself homeless.

In order to make the experience more authentic, Streicker plans to stay with strangers he meets throughout the week and will spend a least one night on the street.

Nakai Theatre’s artistic director David Skelton and local high school student Morgan Weinberg will participate in the event, as well.

There will also be a Guerrilla Photography for Social Change event taking place throughout the week.

The event plans to arm citizens with cameras and send them out into the community to document the effects of the lack of affordable housing in Whitehorse.

The event runs from October 4 to 9 in different locations.

Tonight the guerrilla photographers will be meeting at the corner of First Avenue and Main Street.

Contact Chris Oke at

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