Sleeper Spotlight on Joe Roberts, Sleep Out Executive Edition 2023 Keynote Speaker


It’s been years since Joe Roberts slept outside on the pavement, a practice that was just part of his daily life back in his youth. 

He had spent his young adulthood living on the streets of Vancouver and struggled with addiction. He had little hope for his future. Until one rainy day in 1989, a man he calls Gus sat next to him on a park bench and said: “there’s more to you than you can see.”  

Those life-changing words led Joe to pursue sobriety and his education. Twelve years later, he was the CEO of a leading media organization.  

He now shares his powerful story to help inspire others to lead with empathy and compassion, and to lean into the power of possibility within ourselves and others. 

That’s the message Joe will bring to Covenant House Toronto’s Sleep Out: Executive Edition on November 16 where he will also participate in the Sleep Out. He says sleep out fundraisers like this one are an “inspiring” way to educate the public on youth homelessness and empower them to do more to help. 

“I can take away your bed, I can take away your pillow, I can take away your warmth,” he said. “But I can’t take away your hope. The hopelessness is more than the cold and hungry and the wet.” 

He left the first sleep out he took part in at another organization a number of years ago inspired to do more for young people who were in the same place he was back in the 1980s, in the grips of grief after losing his father to heart failure and being subject to the abusiveness of his new stepfather. 

In 2016, Joe began what would become the Push for Change movement, which saw him push a shopping cart – like one he used to collect bottles and belongings in as a homeless youth – for 17 months across the entire width of North America, raising awareness and funds for homeless youth along the way. 

Joe hopes he can similarly inspire the participants of Sleep Out: Executives Edition to see the potential in those around them and in people in their community experiencing hardships they may struggle to understand. 

“I think it’s really difficult to be hopeful in the world we live in today, but I refuse to move from the position because I know that my life, a week before it changed, was really bad,” he said. “I know that on the other side of some of those things, there’s rejuvenation, there’s transformation, there’s a bounce back if we can reach out and see the potential in one another.”