University students help homeless youth in Toronto

As the temperature continues to drop, the rising number of homeless youth in Toronto are struggling to survive.

But a dedicated group of university students has a plan to help these vulnerable street people stay warm through these frozen winter nights.

“This could be me”

“I go home every night to an amazing family and I’m under a beautiful roof,” says Josephine Mathias. “Then, I walk around downtown [Toronto] and see a lot of homeless people and I think ‘this could be me. This could have been my situation’. I just feel like I’m really, really lucky.”

Mathias is one of the co-founders of the City of Sleeping Bags initiative, which is fundraising on Indiegogo to purchase and distribute 100 sleeping bags to people sleeping on the streets.

The University of Toronto student is working with a team of other four other undergraduates, including her twin sister, Jane. They are all 19-years old.

Shelters overcrowded

Toronto has already experienced 10 extreme weather alerts this winter. On average the city issues 16 such warnings. And it is scrambling to make enough space to bring all those living on the streets indoors.

Ward 21 Councillor Joe Mihevc told the Toronto Star there are just not enough spaces in shelters.

And there are more young people on the streets now.

Engage and Change

“We’re starting to see a lot more youth on the street between the ages of 16- 25, which is really kind of scary,” says Jeffrey Cohen of Engage and Change. “A lot of youth are losing their jobs, and they can’t afford to pay their rent anymore.”

Engage and Change is a non-profit organization that has been organizing an annual drive to distribute winter essentials such as hats and gloves to the homeless for the past 16 years.

While Engage and Change is established enough to draw on a large network of corporate sponsors to create its care package, City of Sleeping Bags is entirely dependent on individual donations.

Mathias reports that the university students have raised $2000 in the past six days, with the end goal of tipping $6000. Donations to City of Sleeping Bags can be made at Indiegogo campaign.

Mathias is excited about the project, and encourages other youth to take the initiative to develop their own projects to benefit the community.

“They shouldn’t think about how much they will need or how much it will cost. They should just do it.”

Photography courtesy of

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