Push for Change

It’s a worthwhile cause that resounds deeply with spokesperson Joe Roberts. Once a homeless youth himself, Roberts is lacing up to walk across Canada, pushing a cart to symbolize the struggles of homelessness in our country.

Kicking off on May 1 in this province’s capital city, Roberts commenced the first leg of his 9,000 kilometre journey. The Herald caught up with Roberts on the morning of May 12, as he prepped for another day of trekking and an upcoming community event in NL. He told us more about the Push for Change campaign and its goals.

‘Youth Homelessness’

“It started four and a half years ago with the idea to raise awareness and funds to support where we need to go as a country to support, reduce and end youth homelessness,” Roberts began. “As a former homeless young person, I was fortunate enough to have the support in place to exit homelessness, but not all young people have those supports,” he said solemnly. “We can do a better job in Newfoundland and Labrador and right across the country … to support young people when they have those crucial challenges in their life. The best place to do that is in the school system,” he said of building awareness and support. 

‘Change for Hope’

“Youth homelessness isn’t necessarily a young person sitting on a piece of cardboard … it’s youth disengagement. It happens in every community across the country,” the spokesperson said. “The campaign to go across Canada, though it’s an old idea, the shopping cart is a new idea. It gives us the opportunity to tell the story,” Roberts explained.

“The shopping cart represents both despair and hope. It’s where we don’t want to see any young person end up. The change that we’re pushing for is a change for hope, for tomorrow. I know right now that in Newfoundland and Labrador, you’re heading into some austere times on the backside of a nasty budget, but we still need to – and this is important – hold the possibility for a better tomorrow,” he said, noting that this hope is the essence of the campaign.

‘Over 400 Stops’

Throughout his 500+ days on the road, Roberts will be telling his story to countless ears, as he stops into schools, community centres and more. Over 400 stops are scheduled throughout the 10 provinces and three territories. It’s going to be quite the journey for the spokesperson himself, walking 24 kilometres a day. He feels physically confident in the trek and the community events gives him the extra mental push to keep going. At the time of the interview, Roberts was excited to spend the afternoon at the Whitbourne correctional facility, where he would tell his tale and hopefully engage and inspire the youth in attendance. 

“I enjoy the physical aspect of the campaign, but I really enjoy what I’m going to do this afternoon – to go and have an impact on an audience, to inspire them through a personal story. We have an opportunity through this campaign to have tens of thousands, if not more people, across this country, to see this issue through a different lens, by humanizing it,” Roberts explained. 

“When we see it through that human lens, there are three ways we can view that issue. The first is through empathy – that it’s the right thing to do to support young people. The second is to say ‘This is smart, fiscally responsible and the best place for us to spend money – on prevention.’ If we don’t, it costs us more down the road. That’s sort of a pragmatic lens. The third lens is to ignore it, to say ‘we don’t have this problem,’ when in fact, we do,” he said. “The story has the power to change the way we think.”

After thanking a number of locals and volunteers who have supported his campaign thus far, Roberts shared his excitement in continuing to engage NLers over the next month. He will be on the island until June 14.

Check out Joe’s daily schedule and see if there’s an event near you at: thepushforchange.com

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