On Saturday night in Burlington Ontario brothers Ethan and Matthew McQueen tucked into sleeping bags for their third annual Kids Helping Kids Sleep Out, a fundraising effort to support youth at Covenant House Toronto.
The 11- and 14-year-old boys have been passionate advocates for youth experiencing homelessness since launching their first sleep out event in 2021, inspired by their father’s participation in the Executive Sleep Out hosted by Covenant House Toronto.
This year’s Kids Helping Kids event had amazing energy, just like their first night huddled under the covers beneath a blanket of stars. That they were joined by more than a dozen other kids really made the night feel special.
Together, their collective efforts raised important awareness about youth homelessness for others their age and more than $28,000 to support Covenant House Toronto – an amount that well cleared the McQueen boys’ fundraising goal this year.
“It was hard sleeping on the ground and hard work getting people to donate,” says Ethan McQueen, aged 11. “But it felt really good to do it, to raise awareness and to fundraise so much for Covenant House Toronto.”
The idea for Kids Helping Kids Sleep Out began when the boys, camped out in their living room, watched a livestream of the Sleep Out: Executive Edition which their father, Dave McQueen, takes part in. The Executives Sleep Out is a flagship Covenant House event that has raised millions to support the shelter and the wraparound services it provides youth who are homeless, trafficked or at risk.
“When we saw our Dad do it we were wondering ‘Why can’t we do it, too?’” Ethan says.
His older brother Matthew, aged 14, recruited a few neighbours from across the street and word spread. They set up a projector to show a video prepared by Covenant House Toronto about the impact of the money they raised. The mayor of Burlington came to say a few words. The boys had a $5,000 fundraising goal and managed to raise $12,500. Last year, that figure rose to $16,000.
“It really was in the last two years that they really got a sense of just how heartbreaking it is and how desperate a young person would have to be to leave home,” said their mother, Andrea McQueen. “They wanted to do something.”
After the first year, the boys were inspired to make each Kids Sleep Out bigger and better, so they recruited more friends, family and neighbours to take part. This year’s Sleep Out boasted more than a dozen kids, many of them first-timers and students of Linbrook School and Appleby College in Oakville.
But it hasn’t stopped there: Students from St. Andrews College in Aurora, Country Day school in King City and National Ballet School in Toronto have all signed on to do their own Sleep Outs in the coming weeks, all fundraising under the Kids Helping Kids Sleep Out banner.
It has been Ethan’s goal to eventually make Kids Sleep Out something all schools do to help raise funds to support youth experiencing homelessness.
This year’s event included a presentation from Covenant House Toronto staff and a visit from local MPP Effie Triantafilopoulos who encouraged them to stay involved in supporting their community.
Now with their third Kids Helping Kids Sleep Out under their belt, Ethan and Matthew are reflecting on how to use their privilege and empathy to keep helping others.
“We’re so lucky to have a house and shelter and food on our plate,” Ethan told the gathered group. “To see that some people don’t have a safe place to stay, we want to continue to give back.”