It took 346 days, but a 50-year-old CEO — who was once a homeless teen — has pushed a shopping cart from St. John's, NL to the Ontario-Manitoba border in an effort to raise funds and build awareness for youth homelessness.
Joe Roberts plans to conclude the trip in Vancouver on Sept. 30, but he tells The Huffington Post Canada, "crossing the country for a cause is kind of old news."
"The bigger piece of this is the community engagement," says Roberts in a phone interview. "It's successful when and only when you can activate that base."
So far, Roberts and his wife and campaign director Marie Roberts have met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, and taken part in over 220 community events in Ontario alone. Roberts currently resides in Barrie, Ont., but hopes to move back to Vancouver at the end of his trek.
""The more kilometres you put behind you, the more people you're inspiring and the more money you're raising."
The "skid row CEO" became made his fortune at multimedia development company Mindware Design Communications, and has become a fixture on the motivational speaking circuit over the past five years.
While he often spends about five or six days straight walking at a regular pace with his grocery cart, he typically uses his day off to complete public engagements or activities, such as speaking at school and even leading a parade. When it comes to resting, Roberts splits his time in either an RV, or nearby hotel. These stopovers serve as a hub for the scheduled events in each area, before it's time to move on to the next stop on the itinerary.
In total, The Push for Change is scheduled to last for 517 days and hit all 10 provinces and three territories. Back in 2012, Roberts completed a similar shopping cart journey and walked from Calgary to Vancouver.
Joe and Marie Roberts meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. (Handout)
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos, MP Patty Hajdu, Joe Roberts and Marie Roberts pose with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and MP Adam Vaughan in Ottawa. (Handout)
As he completes his 9,000-kilometre mission, Roberts has had some help from the RCMP and various community members. Seth and Caleb Marquis of Kenora, Ont. are among Roberts' special helpers who joined him for part of the mission. The brothers, who are 10 and eight, respectively, call themselves the "Philanthro-Bros" and donated $695 to the cause.
According to Roberts, the journey is fully sponsored, so as to allocate 100 per cent of the fundraising dollars to Raising the Roof for The Upstream Project, a school-based youth homeless prevention model in support of Canadian Observatory on Homeless, A Way Home, and Homeless Hub, among several other organizations. And while these causes are obviously quite worthy, there's one big question in need of an answer: what's in his shopping cart?
"There's nothing physically in the shopping cart except for a small pouch that I keep with pins and buttons inside of it for those I meet along the way," says Roberts, while explaining how his accessory is a symbol of homelessness. "Moreso, what's in the cart is the intangibles; hope, possibilities, and a vision for making a shift in Canada."
"The greatest thing my story can bring to the issue is how common and how easily someone can experience youth homelessness or adult homelessness."
The shopping cart push also relates back to Roberts' past, and his experiences with homelessness on and off for roughly seven years until a suicide attempt led him to detox, recovery, and later, to a marketing course at Loyalist College.
"The greatest thing my story can bring to the issue is how common and how easily someone can experience youth homelessness or adult homelessness," says Roberts. "I came from a normal middle class family, but I left home too early because of a family conflict. Then I dropped out of school, and I lost the two biggest support systems in my world. I then struggled with mental health and addiction and by , I was pushing a shopping cart.
"In 1989, I was a sketched out heroin addict, pushing a shopping cart around the downtown east side of Vancouver... and I ended up a successful Canadian entrepreneur. Inside every one of us is more than we can see. [We're trying to] get [others] to see their possibilities. I think we all at some point question and go through those periods."
Joe Roberts and some special helpers push their cart through the snow. (The Push for Change)
Ultimately, Roberts' message about overcoming obstacles is simple. He's aiming to "plant seeds of possibility" while earning "access to the higher levels of government to determine what we have to do to protect these young people."
"The more kilometres you put behind you, the more people you're inspiring and the more money you're raising."
The 50-year-old has set a goal of earning 50 cents from every Canadian for a grand total of $17.5 million, but notes that trudging through the Canadian elements during all four seasons can definitely take its toll on the body and spirit. Roberts does not dismiss the mental or physical challenges of his endeavour, and adds that although he's "not an elite athlete," he still finds himself doing "400 marathons back-to-back" because of his obsession.
It doesn't hurt that he's on the road with his wife. He and Marie dated in Grade 10 and lost track of each other for nearly 28 years before reconnecting almost five years ago. The two just celebrated their first wedding anniversary while on their epic trek.
"There's a love story wrapped in the whole thing," says Roberts, with a laugh. He calls her the "nerve centre" of the whole operation.
Joe Roberts, Marie Roberts and driver Jaime Orozco jump for joy after crossing the Manitoba border. (The Push for Change)
As for their cause, Roberts insists the "currency of awareness" holds equal or greater value to the financial contributions he and his team are receiving on their quest. He is hopeful, too, that the government will take note of The Push for Change, and continue to support emergency services for homeless youth while "making a shift in investment prevention," and create more affordable housing.
The Liberal government recently pledged to allocate $11.2 billion more to affordable housing in new and existing homes in the 2017 federal budget. According to the Canadian Press, the majority of these funds will reportedly be spent after 2022. But Roberts says that even with this promise, there's still a need to push forward and advocate on behalf of homeless youth from a philanthropic and humanitarian standpoint.
For now, though, he's focused on moving on to their next destination: Winnipeg.
"[Talking about the end of 'The Push for Change'] is kind of like talking to a hockey player in the middle of a seven-game series," says Roberts. "They're not looking at it by game seven, but by what's ahead in game five or game four."
Game seven's getting closer each day.
Joe Roberts pushes his shopping cart through the snow. (The Push for Change)
To read more about The Push for Change, click here.
Also on HuffPost:
"For a long time I thought I did too much damage -- drug damage. I was a bit of a drifter. A guy who felt he grew up in something of a vacuum and wanted to see things, wanted to be inspired ... I spent years f--king off. But then I got burnt out and felt that I was wasting my opportunity." [Esquire, 2013]
“Without cigarettes, I would be doing heroin, probably, on a daily basis.” [Blender, 2007]
"I am an alcoholic and a drug addict ... I'm relatively new to being sober, considering the scope of time that I’ve been an addict, but within that scope, this is also the longest I’ve been sober; since iI began using." [Tumblr, 2014]
“The things I was putting in my body, my tolerance got so high. I got to the point where I couldn’t even count how many pills I was taking... I had overdosed in 2007, like right around Christmas in 2007… Pretty much almost died... I scared myself, like, ‘Yo! I need to, I need help. Like I can’t beat this on my own. I think that was my biggest problem… I mean, I’m sure that anybody with addiction—the biggest problem is admitting that you have a problem. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not in control of something.” [Access Hollywood, 2010]
"All those years of snorting coke, and then I accidentally get involved in heroin after smoking crack for the first time. It finally tied my shoelaces together... Smoking dope and smoking coke, you are rendered defenseless. The only way out of that hopeless state is intervention." [Rolling Stone, 2010]
"I spent most of my life looking for the quick fix and the deep kick. I shot drugs under freeway off-ramps with Mexican gangbangers and in thousand-dollar-a-day hotel suites. Now I sip vitamin-infused water and seek out wild, as opposed to farm-raised, salmon." ["Scar Tissue," published 2005]
"When I was 10 ½, I was sitting in a room with a group of young adults who were smoking pot. I wanted to try some, and they said, 'Sure. Isn't it cute, a little girl getting stoned?' Eventually that got boring, and my addict mind told me, 'Well, if smoking pot is cute, it'll also be cute to get the heavier stuff like cocaine.' It was gradual. What I did kept getting worse and worse, and I didn't care what anybody else thought." [People, 1989]
"I kind of took matters into my own hands and was creating drama in a very dangerous way. I think I was just bored, and I had seen everything. Especially when you're young, you just want more. ... At 18 I had just been doing a lot of cocaine." [People, 2007]
"I was consumed by cocaine, booze and who knows what else. I apparently never got the memo that the Me generation had ended." ["Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss and the End of AIDS," published 2012]
“Cocaine was even in the budgets of movies, thinly disguised. It was petty cash, you know? It was supplied, basically, on movie sets because everyone was doing it. People would make deals. Instead of having a cocktail, you’d have a line." [Newsweek, 2011]
“I got into a scene. I started going out and taking ecstasy. From ecstasy, it went to crystal meth. With any drugs, everything is great at the beginning, and then slowly your life starts to spiral down. [I was] 90 pounds at one point.” ["Oprah's Next Chapter," 2012]
"I had what they call a 'high bottom, my life didn't fall apart before I got into rehab. I didn't lose my job or run over a kid or injure anyone when I was high. But the hardest thing I do every day is not take cocaine. You don't get cured of addiction -- you're just in remission." [W Magazine, 2010]
"I hit rock bottom when I was doing “The Brady Brides.” I was supposed to be at the studio, screen testing to pick the guy that would play my husband. At this time, I had been up for three days doing coke and was playing solitaire in my closet. My agent had to go to the sixth floor, climb into my place, tear off my clothes and get me in the shower. He said, “You have to get to Paramount right now, and you have a problem.” I couldn’t hide anymore. Everyone knew -- the producers knew, everyone at Paramount knew, the guys testing to play my husband knew. It was the first time I had to face that I really had a problem." ["Today," 2008]
"Withdrawal -- it’s the worst thing. I was freezing cold, then sweating hot, then chattering and in so much pain. It was excruciating. At my very core, I did not like existing the way I had been.” [Us Weekly, 2010]
"I was so hooked on opiates [at that point] that I couldn't even leave my bedroom." [Press Conference, 2013]
"I went through heavy, darker times and I survived them. I didn't die young, so I'm very lucky. There are other artists and people who didn't survive certain things ... I think people can imagine that I did the most dangerous and I did the worst-and for many reasons I shouldn't be here." ["60 Minutes," 2011]
"It's been almost 15 years since I smoked last from a crack pipe. It's been almost 15 years since I waited on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx for my drugs." ["Wendy Williams Show," 2012]
"There was about a year’s span that I did cocaine that I was doing it -- you could say -- more occasionally, on the weekend. Then my weekend became a three-day weekend, then it became four, then it became five. I would do so much at a time that I would snort the coke and then I would sit there, I would take my pulse [thinking]: ‘I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.’" ["Howard Stern," 2013]
"I lost everything. It's serious. It's serious when you lose your kids, your children, your wife, your band, your job and you'll never understand why because you're an addict. You can't figure that out." ["Dr. Oz," 2013]
“People don’t take it as seriously as it really is, it’s a mental illness and it’s a disease …There’s no pill that’s gonna change it …People need to have compassion for it …Being a former addict looking at it as I had a choice, because at some point in my disease I didn’t, I physically and emotionally couldn’t live without it, that was my medicine to my pain.” ["Extra," 2014]