They huddled in sleeping bags in the back of their cars and set up tents in parking lots in locations across Canada in a show of solidarity to tackle homelessness.
Unifor locals, members and staff participated in Raising the Roof’s “One Night” event on Feb. 7, 2023 to raise awareness and money for the organization’s homelessness prevention programs. The union’s fundraising efforts reached over $70,000.
“A growing number of people still face the ongoing challenge of being unhoused, and bearing the brunt of multiple social and economic crises that result in poverty and no roof above one’s head,” said Unifor National President Lana Payne.
“As our union, it’s our responsibility to recognize the many intertwining challenges and systems that cause homelessness and poverty, and to ensure our commitment to addressing them in Canada lives on beyond this event.”
At the 2022 Unifor Convention, delegates adopted an action plan which included a commitment to foster relationships with anti-poverty organizations, and develop its advocacy program on affordable housing.
The event – which took place in Winnipeg, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Toronto – fell on the 26th-annual Toque Tuesday, with Raising the Roof providing volunteers a small taste of what hundreds of Canadians experience each night by having them sleep rough for just one night.
At the Humbertown Shopping Centre parking lot in Etobicoke, Ont., John McVey, a Political Mobilization Committee activist from Unifor Local 222, was preparing himself for a long night.
“Friday night when it was really cold snap – I can’t even remember, it was -31C kind of temperature, that’s all I think about,” said John McVey. “There are people out there on benches, wrapped into whatever they can and we’ve got to find solutions to these problems.”
McVey said he became involved in the cause because homelessness is on the rise, especially in his city, Oshawa.
“The temperature was fortunate for us. But the experience still wasn’t comfortable so it leaves you realizing how fortunate we are,” he said.
In Canada, more than 235,000 people experience homelessness in any given year, according to StatsCan and 25,000 to 35,000 people may be experiencing homelessness on any given night.
Unifor Local 26 President Donovan Nezbeth said “One Night” was an opportunity to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis in cities across Canada.
“The fact that we could raise funds by actively taking part in a demonstration of sleeping in our cars made it even more attractive to me,” he said. “Active participation to help others is very rewarding for both the giver and receiver.”