As per tradition, University of Manitoba Asper school of business students camped outside last week in participation with the Canada-wide Five Days for the Homeless (5DH) campaign.
Typically, five Asper students spend five nights in a makeshift shelter outside University Centre, eating only what is given to them by friends, supporters, and passersby. The rules applied as usual this year, except only four out of five participants were Asper students; Matt Odger, Riley George, Sara Bulloch, and Sam Davidson were joined by political studies student Martin Machalak.
In addition to the campers, many commerce (and non-commerce) students joined in, soliciting donations around campus for Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), a local non-profit organization the school has partnered with in years past.
“I think the reason we keep going back to them is that they service people who are our age,” said George.
“We’ve had RaY come by every day. I’ve met a couple of the people they’ve helped, and I can relate to them when they’re 19 years old and I’m 20 years old,” he continued.
The students began sleeping outside on Sunday night and wrapped up their endeavour Friday night. In addition to their highly visible campaign, a past user of RaY’s services visited the U of M on Thursday to meet with the campers, to describe his own past history with homelessness, and to discuss the various services RaY offers to young people living without a fixed address.
Davidson and George acknowledged that while the response from people on campus has been mostly supportive, some have shared with them their misgivings about the campaign. One individual told George that the five days outside did not truly mirror the plight of homeless youth; George and Davidson both agreed.
“This isn’t really to simulate homelessness. It’s to create attention,” said Davidson.
“There is such a negative stigma associated with homelessness, and [5DH] is really to get the conversation going. In the end, when people who aren’t as supportive come talk to us, that’s just it. They’re getting the conversation going [ . . . ] in the end, they may not support it, but we’re raising awareness and we’re raising funds.”
As the campaign wound down last Friday, the U of M’s 5DH campaign counted a total of $20,701, surpassing their goal of $20,000. A total of $184,969 was raised nationally, with all schools donating 100 per cent of proceeds to local charities.
The 5DH campaign has its roots at the University of Alberta, whose school of business initiated the campaign in 2005. By 2011, 22 schools across Canada were involved.
Reflecting on the second and coldest day of the experience, Davidson remarked that, if anything, it had only made the survival of homeless youth in Winnipeg seem more remarkable.
“It really puts things in perspective. You have to wonder, after two days for us and we’re feeling like this, imagine the people that are in way worse conditions, doing this for three weeks, three months, three years, or even three decades. For us this is something where we can take that personal sacrifice to create some awareness and keep the conversation going.”
I admire the students who undertook this task. It gives them a faint glimpse of how it must feel to be homeless. Knowing that they will have a bed to return to and having food provided by friends and family however is not the reality most homeless people experience. How sad is it that there is no municipal, provincial or federal department who are in charge of being responsible for the homeless in Manitoba. I am told the provincial government is responsible, but no minister has been assigned. As well, there are no official statistics being kept. These things need to change