Toronto students learning about staggering realities of youth homelessness through art activism

Twenty-one schools from across Toronto or learning about the staggering realities of youth homelessness.

“Any one night, there’s about 1,500 to 2,000 kids on the streets,” said Mike Burnett, an education specialist with Youth Without Shelter.

For the last several weeks, drama students at Crescent School have been taking part in a art activism workshop called Tokens4Change.

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“The Tokens4Change campaign sort of breaks those stereotypes in a way,” said Michael Levinson, a drama student with Crescent School.

“You know, educating through arts to bring awareness and attention to the issue to break those stereotypes.”

This youth-to-youth initiative addresses the stereotypes of homelessness, teaches prevention strategies, builds knowledge about local community resources and empowers students to become empathetic activist through role playing.

“Art is a very big thing that can cross many different generational boundaries,” said Burnett.

“Helping to build support for someone their age is an amazing way of conveying the issues of youth homelessness.”

The program helps build awareness and funds for Youth Without Shelter, an Etobicoke shelter and support house serving more than 1,000 homeless youth every year.

“It is sadly the fastest growing population. Right now, about 20 per cent of the overall homeless population in Canada is youth,” said Burnett.

The final step of the workshop is Tokens for Change day, a 12-hour, Toronto-wide student art activism event involving 600 youth. On Feb. 2, they will be at 25 TTC stations inspiring commuters with pop-up theater, visual arts and dance performances. Event organizers said they hope to collect spare change or TTC tokens.

“It definitely had a profound impact on me and I think on all my classmates and my teachers as to what the problem really is,” said Levinson.

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