I left home at 15 years old. I never dreamed I would end up homeless, living under a bridge.
It was a cold rainy day, when, on a park bench in Vancouver, I sold the boots off my feet to survive. I was desperate, lonely, and ashamed. I did not think I could go any lower.
That’s when a very compassionate man named Gus said to me, “Joe, there’s more to you than you can see.”
Growing up, I had a good mom, but my dad died when I was very young. My stepfather was a bully. “You’ll never amount to anything,” he would tell me. I started making poor choices and using drugs. At 15 years old, I left home and quit school. I never dreamed I would end up homeless, living under a bridge, and pushing a shopping cart.
Each year in Canada, 35,000 young people experience homelessness through no fault of their own. Their stories are similar: addiction, abuse, depression. After all, not all homes or childhoods are created equal.
Imagine where your life would be without school or a home? Imagine your worst day alone, without resources, friends, or family.
The good news for me was Gus was right; there was more to me than I could see.
With help from my mother and Constable Scott MacLeod, an Ontario Provincial Police officer, I got my second chance. I entered drug treatment and went back to school.
Twelve years later, I won a Courage to Come Back Award as a Canadian success story.
I often think of how many young people who are just like I was could avoid homelessness with just one champion to help them. I am proof that investing in someone no matter what their personal circumstances is the right thing to do.
I am a community investment gone correct. I am here today thanks to 10,000 change makers.
That’s why today I can pay it forward. I wanted to do something to give back to a country that has blessed me with so much. I wanted to raise awareness about what we need to do to help prevent, reduce, and end youth homelessness.
Canadians have a history of crossing the country for charity. Heroes like Rick Hansen and Terry Fox inspired me. I thought that if they can do it for their causes, surely we can do it for youth homelessness.
That’s how we started The Push for Change, a 9,000-kilometre, 17-month walk across Canada. Over five months ago, I left St. John’s and began walking, pushing a shopping cart that represents youth homelessness and the hope that one day we can put an end to it.
As of Thursday, Oct. 20, I have completed over 3,291 kilometres.
We still have a long way to go. Over the next 11 months our team will continue throughout Ontario, heading west towards Vancouver. Along the way, we are inspiring and empowering young people to take action.
The Push For Change is a powerful grassroots social plan. It connects people and services across Canada with an action plan to end youth homelessness.
I ask everyone to take action in their communities. Our goal is to raise 50 cents from every Canadian. These funds will be allocated to Raising the Roof to build The Upstream Project, Canada’s school-based initiative to prevent youth homelessness.
I believe by working together we can prevent, reduce, and end youth homelessness in Canada.
Governor General David Johnston has encouraged Canadians to find their giving moment—this is mine. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate Canada as we head into our 150th anniversary as a nation.
I believe that human beings are their most beautiful when they are helping others. Inside you is more than you can see, so I encourage you today to find your passion and commit yourself to action with your friends, in your schools, in your families, and in the community.
Not everyone can walk across Canada, but everyone can push for change.
Join me and Team Push for Change at Yonge-Dundas Square this Sunday, October 23, from noon to 4 p.m.
Joe Roberts is the executive director of The Push for Change. He is also an author and public speaker.