City of Sleeping Bags initiative to aid Toronto’s homeless

Two Ryerson business students are trying to help the homeless stay warm this winter.

Katharine Heng and Jane Mathias have started a campaign called City of Sleeping Bags, which aims to raise $5,000 to provide 100 sleeping bags for the homeless this winter.

It all started after an inter-provincial business competition the two were participating in. The competition had wrapped up, and they were leaving the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel.

On the way to the subway, they came across a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk.

It was mid-January, and he had only a thin jacket covering himself.

Although they had seen homeless people many times before, it was different this time.

“I think it’s because we had just thrown out a cold pizza from the night before, and we were going from one warm bed in a nice hotel to our warm beds at home,” Mathias says.

The students didn’t have anything to give him, so they continued on their way to the home.

When Heng got home, she posted a video online of Ellen DeGeneres talking about pizza and the homeless.

Katharine Heng (left) and Jane Mathias are raising money for sleeping bags to give to those in need. (Courtesy Brendan Hills)

Katharine Heng (left) and Jane Mathias are raising money for sleeping bags to give to those in need. (Courtesy Brendan Hills)

The two laughed about the timing of the video and how it was a sign they should do something. They joked about opening up a pizza store where the proceeds would go towards sleeping bags for the homeless. Then, they got serious.

“We thought we could start something,” Mathias says. “We thought, let’s do something with the homeless and sleeping bags.”

After a few hours of brainstorming, they came up with the idea for City of Sleeping Bags.

Along with Mathias’s sister, University of Toronto student Josephine Mathias, they launched an Indiegogo campaign a few days later.

Mathias says that although this is not a long-term solution for addressing homelessness in Toronto, it’s a temporary fix that they desperately need.

“If you were to go to the emergency (room), it would take a while before you could see the doctor, but they might give you a bandage,” Mathias says.

“We consider ourselves the bandage. And we consider the government as the doctor.”

Heng says: “We are currently students who don’t have jobs. So we can’t raise enough capital to help them physically, or to get them back on their feet, get them a job and the help they need.”

“We are hoping that organizations who are doing similar things to us will take notice and help the people get back on their feet,” she adds.

The campaign has rallied 30 volunteers to help distribute sleeping bags to the homeless at the end of February, but Heng hopes  to start giving them out earlier.

“It’s getting colder right now, and every day it keeps getting colder, someone else might die,” Heng says.

City of Sleeping Bags has already raised more than $4,000 and they hope to reach their goal by the end of the month.

By Anuba Thiagarajah

This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb. 11, 2015.

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