Street kid-turned-CEO pushing shopping cart across Canada to 'give voice to the invisible'
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, September 27, 2016 9:10AM EDT
In 1989, Joe Roberts was pushing a shopping cart around the streets of Vancouver.
Homeless and addicted to drugs, Roberts managed to get clean and turn his life around. Today, he is the millionaire CEO of a multimedia design company.
Earlier this year, Roberts again began pushing a shopping cart, only this time he’s working his way across Canada with a purpose.
Through his Push for Change initiative, Roberts is pushing the cart across Canada to raise awareness and money to help end youth homelessness. Roberts began his walk in St. John’s, N.L. on May 1, with the aim of ending his 9,000-kilometre journey in Vancouver on Sept. 30, 2017.
In an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, Roberts said it’s his mission to help prevent, reduce and end youth homelessness.
After living on the streets, Roberts said he got a “second chance,” thanks to his mother and an Ontario Provincial Police officer.
“In less than 12 years I went from that young person on the streets of Vancouver, to more success than I could ever imagine,” Roberts said.
Four years ago, Roberts began developing the Push for Change initiative, with the aim of engaging Canadians in a conversation about what we need to do to support vulnerable young people.
“A good friend of mine said, ‘why don’t you push a shopping cart? It’s a symbol of chronic homelessness,’” Roberts recalled.
On his journey, which is being documented on the Push for Change website, Roberts is visiting youth shelters and attending hundreds of community and school events.
He wants to break the stereotype that homeless youth are on the street because they choose to be there.
“When you take a look at what the antecedents are that actually lead to homelessness, they’re not what we think. It’s mental health, it’s addictions, it’s family conflict, it’s early childhood trauma,” he said.
It’s not about “bad kids,” Roberts added, but “situations that kids come from that are bad – bad environments.”
Roberts said it’s Canadians’ collective responsibility to build better support systems for young people while they’re still in school, “to avoid having them cycle out of school and leave home too early, without the skill sets to survive.”
More than just raise money, Roberts said he wants to “give a voice to those that are invisible.”
It’s what keeps him going when he’s pushing the shopping cart through inclement weather and bad days during his journey.
When Roberts meets with struggling youth, he tells them what a man on street corner told him years ago.
“I tell them that there’s more to them than they can see.”