York Region youth Sarah Arkwell knows what it is like to be homeless.
Speaking to a crowd ahead of the fundraising event 360ºkids Experience, she recounted how much the organization did for her when she was at her most vulnerable.
“Without 360, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today,” she said. “Whether it’s education, a hot meal or just a phone call. To have someone to talk to when you don’t feel you can push another day.”
More than $419,000 was raised for the youth homelessness charity through the 10th annual event March 2. The Richmond Hill organization had more than 270 participate in the experience, meant to give people a sense of what it is like being a homeless youth.
In total, 30 people participated in the in-person version, launched from the York Region administrative centre in Newmarket. They spent whole night on the streets.
Organization CEO Clovis Grant said it is a chance for people to reflect and experience what it is like for the homeless, who may not have many choices.
“The organization is just over 30 years old, and it’s unfortunate to say, 30 years later, we still have this issue of homelessness amongst our young people,” he said. “That’s why the work we do has to continue.”
The event featured several different streams, including the in-person event, a corporate challenge hosted in Stouffville, a virtual option and a school-based version featuring several schools in York Region.
St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic High School principal Peter Parente said the students taking part face some discomfort as they study and learn about youth homelessness.
But he added, “We really want to ingrain in them the feeling that they can take action for positive change.”
York Regional Police Supt. Graham Beverly received special recognition for participating in the event for 10 consecutive years.
He said the first effort a decade ago was excellent, and the event helps police better understand what is happening on the streets.
“I can pass on my experiences, pass that information onto my officers out on the street, and I can let them know what’s going on with the youth,” he said. “360ºkids, I think they do an amazing job.”
Richmond Hill youth Ace Kenigsberg is participating for the second year in a row.
“It was really informative,” Kenigsberg said, adding an event like this can spread knowledge and get funding on the issue. “A lot of people just aren’t aware.”
Arkwell expressed appreciation for everyone for coming and showing support for 360ºkids' signature fundraising event.
“They’re not just an organization to me,” she said. “They’re my family.”