5 Days for the Homeless

Six U of M students camp in front of University Centre to raise money and awareness for homeless youth

Participants camped outside University Centre Monday night. Photo by Carolyne Kroeker

Six students will be sleeping outdoors from March 15-20 in front of University Centre as part of “5 Days for the Homeless,” a national campaign to raise funds for the homeless.

The University of Manitoba is one of 26 Canadian universities and the only one in Manitoba to participate in the campaign this year. Commerce Students’ Association president Dale Camuyong, UMSU president Al Turnbull, Karli Kirkpatrick, Riaz Mahmood, Alannah Matte, and Deanna Mirlycourtois have signed up as sleepers for the U of M’s campaign. Camuyong, Kirkpatrick, Mirlycourtois, and Matte are business students; both Turnbull and Mahmood are arts students.

Funds raised by U of M students will be going to Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), a local non-profit that works with Winnipeg’s homeless youth. As of March 16, the 5 Days for the Homeless U of M campaign had raised $4,385 of their $20,000 goal.

The campaign was first developed by three students from the University of Alberta’s School of Business in 2005 as part of an effort to raise money for homelessness. In their first year, the group raised $2,000 for a local emergency shelter. Since then, it has grown into a national campaign, with over $1,212,000 raised for a variety of charitable agencies across Canada.

Participants in the 5 Days campaign are expected to follow certain rules while living outdoors.

They must remain on campus, have no income, have no food or drinks other than those provided through direct donations, keep only a pillow and sleeping bag—although they can be exchanged for an emergency meal—have no access to showers or facilities other than when campus buildings are open, sleep outside unless weather becomes a health risk, continue to attend all classes, and avoid personal communication media such as cell phones and social media.

In addition, participants are expected to write about their experience or film themselves as part of a contribution to the Five Days campaign blog.

Alissa Smith and Chris Kirk-Fisher, the co-chairs organizing the event, have been working with 12 other committee members since January to plan the local leg of the campaign.

The local campaign has largely been co-ordinated by business students, but has received support from other faculties.

The Arthur Mauro Students’ Association and the Arts Student Body Council are both sending guest sleepers for one night each. Student associations have offered financial support as well, with the Arthur Mauro Students’ Association donating $300, the Arts Student Body Council donating $1,000, and an as yet undetermined amount to be donated by the Residence Students’ Association Council.

Kirk-Fisher told the Manitoban that the committee had placed a high priority on reaching out to faculties outside of Asper and that they had found that students from other faculties were receptive to working on the 5 Days campaign.

“It’s been great to have [the support of other faculties]. We’ve had troubles in the past with everyone thinking it’s an Asper event, and Asper only, so we only have the Asper volunteers, we only have the Asper donors,” Kirk-Fisher said.

“We’re trying to do everything we can this year to make everyone realize it’s a university campaign rather than just an Asper campaign.”

Camuyong said that the 5 Days event was reflective of what impact the Commerce Students’ Association and the Asper school of business hope to have on the community.

“We’re more than just a business school. I think we really try to be well-rounded contributors to the community that we’re operating in. And it’s not just charity as well. We try to have an economic impact in terms of job placements. We try to have kind of a social impact, obviously, with our commerce socials and charities,” Camuyong said.

“It’s weird to say, but I can say comfortably that our focus on business is almost secondary, where our first focus is more so engaging in the community that we’re in, and obviously charity is a big part of that.”

Camuyong said that youth homelessness was an issue that more students need to be aware of, and one that needed to be addressed.

“People are sleeping out on the streets, people our age. What on earth must have happened at home that sleeping outside is the number one option? Something must be wrong if sleeping outside is the best option,” he said.

“There are issues beyond Canada, and even beyond Manitoba in terms of homelessness and poverty, but this is something that’s happening at home, and this is something that I think people should be more aware of in terms of their everyday lives.”

Alex White, director of communications and development for RaY, said that the funds raised by the U of M’s 5 Days campaign help fund essential services to youth who need them. He added that the 5 Days event can have a much more personal impact because of its student involvement.

“With the 5 Days event, in one sense it’s fantastic to see all these young people to stand up for other young people who have kind of been given a bad break.”

“Quite often there will be participants of ours that will go on to university, too. And I’ve heard that when they see that happen they’re really thrilled to see that other youth and their peers care just as much about the topic and their well-being as they do,” White said.

Over another dozen volunteers will be assisting by co-ordinating and staffing various other activities throughout the week. Activities include bake sales in Drake Centre and University Centre, a food sale hosted by the University of Manitoba Marketing Association, a pancake sale hosted by the University of Manitoba Leadership Organization, and 5 Acts for the Homeless, a fundraiser event featuring five local performers at the Hub.

The five acts will be local musicians George Semchuk and Leanne Pearson, comedian Ben Walker, and local bands Benowa and the Fighting Hellfish.

5 Acts for the Homeless starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Tickets will be available for sale in Drake Centre for $10, or $5 and two gently used pieces of clothing.

5 Days for the Homeless started at 5 p.m. on Sunday and runs until 5 p.m. Friday.