‘Barefoot Challenge’ comes to New Brunswick Legislature

A challenge to raise funds and awareness about youth homelessness in Canada has made its way to the New Brunswick Legislature, as part of “The Push for Change” campaign.

READ MORE: ‘Real-time’ lists urged to help keep track of Canada’s homeless population

Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman took part in the barefoot challenge, daring Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Donald Arseneault to take off his shoes and socks for the cause.

“I definitely accept your challenge Mr. deputy premier,” Arseneault said.

ChangSha Night Net

The challenge is part of The Push for Change campaign: Joe Roberts is walking across Canada, pushing a shopping cart, to raise money and awareness about youth homelessness.

“As you know, Joe Roberts, who is walking across Canada for The Push for Change is presently in Nova Scotia, who started in Newfoundland last month and has walked across Newfoundland and now Nova Scotia,” Horsman said.

“He’s raising awareness of youth homelessness across our country and our province, and so [with] the Barefoot Challenge we are trying to raise money for people in our province. And to do so I was challenged by my daughter.”

Horsman says homelessness is on the minds of everyone in the province, not just of those in Fredericton.

“We need to help people have a home.  Having a home, having a roof over your head is probably the most important thing that a person can do and to have. It starts with our confidence, it starts with building with families, employment. So it is very important and we want to try to eradicate homelessness in our province,” Horsman said.

READ MORE: National homeless count planned for winter and spring of 2016

Roberts is spending 517 days pushing a shopping cart across Canada.  Roberts tells Global News the cart is a symbol of the outcome he hopes young people can avoid. Roberts is on day 53 of the challenge, and has walked 1,061 km.

In 1989, Roberts says he was homeless and living under a bridge in Vancouver.  He says he’s turned his life around, and wants to help others succeed.

Roberts says not everyone can push a cart across the country, but he tells Global News that people can help by donating to the cause and going shoeless for an hour.

“The barefoot challenge is kind of a take on one of the hardest days I had in my life. In 1989, in Vancouver, on my worst day I ended up selling the boots that I had on my feet to support a drug dependency.

“So it was in that moment of complete and utter shame and brokenness that the door of opportunity opened for me,” Roberts said.

Horsman said Roberts’ efforts inspire him.

“Hearing Joe Roberts’ story from where he came from and where he went and what he’s doing today.  He doesn’t have to do this, he’s well on his way, he’s sufficiently good, but he wants to give back to not only his community but his country.”

He says if people all give back and support the cause it will make the province and the communities within it even better.

“For Joe to do this and bring awareness of homelessness not only of the youth, but everybody, it’s great for our communities and people who are very fortunate to have a house. It shows you an understanding of what it’s like, maybe not to have a house or some kind of shelter,” Horsman said.

Youth in Transition executive director Julie Gallant Daigle says seeing policy markers take part in the challenge is a good first step.

READ MORE: Homeless man offers coat off his back to Montreal teen posing as street kid

“I think it’s encouraging. I think the fact that it’s reaching people at the top is really important, cause we do know that those are the people that make the decisions that affect people down at the bottom,” Gallant Daigle said.

“At the end of the day, I’m optimistic and hopeful that maybe, you know, by participating in that, they do recognize the need for youth housing in our communities.”

Horsman says the government is trying to help people who are in situations where they wouldn’t normally have access to financial help or education.

“Just over a year ago we implemented the ‘YES’ (Youth Engagement Services) program, dealing with youth between the ages of 16 to 18…who can’t live at home with their parents.

“So, as a government we’re trying to find them a place to live, financial agreements to help them with their finances- on the agreement that they stay in school. And as we know, education is the most important part,” Horsman said.

Arseneault says the government and people in the community all have a role to play in trying to find opportunities for youth.

“When we talked about the Tuition Access Bursary program in the last several months, these are kids or youth that may not have the opportunity and may never think about going to post-secondary education because they didn’t have the means —; it wasn’t part of the conversation for various reasons.

“For us to give that opportunity to them to have free tuition, to be able to go to university of college, now they can actually dream of taking that next step, and I think those are the things that are very important.  If we’re going to lift people out of poverty, including youth, we have to as a government take a leadership role and try to provide those opportunities as well,” Arseneault said.

Horsman says there are 300 people in the YES program throughout the province, and says 40 have gone on to post-secondary education.

“A good education means a good job, and a good job means unemployment will be low,  and the poverty level will be lessened,” Horsman said.

However, Gallant Daigle says while it’s great there are prevention programs in-place, for the people currently looking for help there is still a need for more support.

READ MORE: Young Moncton man shares experience growing up on the streets

“We definitely need more youth housing —; that’s not a secret. Here in Fredericton, for example, we could really use some more crisis or emergency type beds for youth who are in a dire-straight crisis who aren’t really ready to make any changes.”

There;s also more need for supportive housing for youth transitioning to independence, Gallant Daigle says.

She says she’s encouraging people to take part in the Barefoot challenge, as 50 per cent of the donations from Fredericton will stay in the city and provide support to Youth in Transition, specifically to Chrysalis House, which provides homeless youth with a safe, stable and secure living environment.

She says people can donate money that will stay within the city by texting 41010 with the word BOOTSFREDDY.

Horsman says he commends Roberts and is looking forward to walking 24 km with him when he crosses through New Brunswick in August. Horsman says he has challenged minister Boudreau, Arseneault and the premier.

“I know for a fact yesterday that the premier has met his challenge and of course you see here today minister Arseneault has completed his challenge as well,” Horsman said.

Arseneault says he has challenged the president of the University of New Brunswick, the president of St. Thomas University, along with the Student Alliance executive director.

“If they accept this challenge they would definitely raise awareness as well,” Arseneault said.

Fredericton Police chief LeAnne Fitch initially kicked off the challenge during the second week of June.

Arseneault says on Monday June 27, 2016 he and minister Horsman will head to Saint John to meet with stakeholders to address the poverty rate.

Comments are closed.