Students sleep outside for five days to raise awareness for homelessness

Between Mar. 7 and Mar. 11, the Goodman Business Student’s Association, spearheaded by Megan Wilson, organized the annual Five Days for the Homeless initiative on campus to fundraise and raise awareness for the issue of homelessness.

Since homelessness emerged as a crisis – in the 1990s, with the withdrawal of the federal government’s investment in affordable housing, communities have struggled to respond. Declining wages (even minimum wage has not kept up with inflation in any jurisdiction in Canada), reduced benefit levels–including pensions and social assistance, and a shrinking supply of affordable housing, have placed more and more Canadians at risk of homelessness.

For a small, but significant group of Canadians facing physical and mental health challenges, the lack of housing and supports is driving increases in homelessness. The result has been an explosion in homelessness as a visible and seemingly ever present problem. Homeless hub reports, as of 2014, that there are 35,000 Canadians who are homeless on any given night. Additionally, homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 billion annually in order to provide necessary emergency shelters, social services, health care and corrections.

Participants in the Five Days for the Homeless Initiative slept outside Taro hall for five days / Christy Mitchell

Participants in the Five Days for the Homeless Initiative slept outside Taro hall for five days / Christy Mitchell

According to Ahmad Smaiya, a second-year Political Science student who participated in this year’s Five Days for the Homeless, the original event was started by students at the University of Toronto. This concept has been shared and expanded upon by several university Business Faculties across Canada. Students participating in the event are not allowed to use technology, shower or purchase their own food and must sleep outside, with exceptions made for extenuating circumstances.

Several students felt inspired from prior years and decided to dedicate their time to advocate for homelessness in Canada. Julia Wood, fifth-year Business student and BUSU VPEA-elect., saw the event take place each year and admired the dedication the event took. When she became a member of the Goodman Business Student Association, she was able to work on the campaign which is what inspired her to get involved.

“It’s going well. The first night was really cold but we have sleeping bags and a lot of layers. All of us are eager to raise as much as we can for Community Care,” said Wood after the first evening of the event.

The event has raised considerable attention and continues to heighten awareness of homelessness and raise significant funds for Community Care.

“Each year we’ve been making more money. Last year we raised $10,000 and this year our goal is $15,000,” said Anne Clement, a fourth-year Child and Youth Studies student. Clement has participated in Five Days for the Homeless all four years she has attended Brock. Clement deeply enjoys the experience and acknowledges the amazing community and conversations she is able to have with students and faculty during the event about the many issues related to homelessness.

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“Imagine if people treat the homeless on the street the way they treat us. I don’t understand where there is a discrepancy, why don’t we treat other homeless people like this?” Clement asked.

All of the participants interviewed acknowledged the controversial aspect of the Five Days for the Homeless event. Among these criticisms include the complaint that this event trivializes homelessness because it oversimplifies the experience by simulating it.

“The hardest part of this event to me is explaining to students why we’re doing this. It’s important that we persuade them that we’re not simulating homelessness, but we’re raising awareness about it. We associate homelessness with negative connotations but anyone can find themselves in this scenario,” said Smaiya.

Smaiya also believes that the Brock community can do more to confront the issue and cites the absence of a concrete structure, like a student club, to tackle homelessness on a more systemic level. Clement also mentioned that several homeless individuals have come on campus to talk with participants and have offered their support and thanks for their commitment to the event.

Nathan Abraham, a second-year Communication Science student, was impressed by the participants and their dedication. “It’s good to bring awareness to an issue [on campus] where we don’t always see it,” he said.

Nicholas Blasiak
Assistant Campus News Editor

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