When Tanya van Biesen was first approached to join Sleep Out Executive Edition in 2017, she knew very little about Covenant House Toronto.
At the time, she was leading a non-profit focused organization on advancing women in the workplace. She was happy to oblige a colleague who was hoping to increase the number of women executives at Sleep Out but otherwise did not have expectations.
Looking back, she found that first experience to be “extremely profound.”
“The scope of work, the communities served, the range of services, the depth of care and support that Covenant House provides was extremely impactful,” said Tanya, who is now Managing Partner of Board & CEO Succession Practice Canada at management consulting firm Korn Ferry.
Tanya recalled talking with two young people seated with her at her table that first year. “I was able to provide some guidance to one of them and help her throughout the following year as she was looking at employment opportunities. That was great.”
Tanya left feeling inspired and committed to the work of supporting youth experiencing homelessness and sex trafficking. Now, seven years later, she is the Sleep Out Executive Edition 2023 Committee Chair, helping to lead more than 75 participants in their goal to raise $1.25 million to support Covenant House Youth.
“There is so much need in the city of Toronto and so I guess for me this is one small way of being able to do something that does feel like it can help address acute problems like homelessness, which is really front and centre right now,” she said. “Young people are the future and, fundamentally, without a home, without a place to put your head down, you can’t expect people to thrive and to rise.”
The work Covenant House does to support youth who have been sex trafficked is “the thickest string that has pulled me through from that first time to now,” she said. “I just had no understanding of how much of a problem it is in Toronto.”
The other thing that keeps Tanya coming back to Sleep Out? It’s a chance to support the frontline workers at Covenant House who make a difference for young people day in and day out.
At day’s end for Tanya, it’s all about showing up.
“Representation matters. If people see leaders taking an active role and, in this case, putting some sweat equity into something by sleeping on a piece of cardboard, they may be more inclined to do something like that themselves, and engage in a spirit of community,” she said.
“We’re so lucky to be in this country. Is it perfect? No. Can we help to make it better every day? Absolutely.”