A week without home

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Five students sacrifice daily comforts for charity

Lauren Golosky
Contributor

For most University of Regina students the stress of papers, midterms, and finals is their biggest worry. Though most students aren’t living with financial abundance, homelessness isn’t a realistic threat – at least not one that is on many students’ minds.

But, for five University of Regina students, homelessness will be a reality for five days. Since Sunday, March 13, five students from various faculties have been participating in 5 Days for the Homeless, an event which requires its participants to live as if they were homeless.

For five days, the selected five students will reside on campus grounds, sleeping outside, while continuing to attend all classes. With the exception of a sleeping bag and pillow, they sacrifice personal luxuries, including food and beverage, having to survive solely on donations.

The University of Regina isn’t the only university participating in the 5 Days for the Homeless. The event – which originated from the University of Alberta’s School of Business in 2005 – includes 23 universities and colleges from across Canada, up from 2010’s 19 participating institutions. This is the University of Regina’s second year involved with the campaign.

Ally Pilkey, in charge of media for the event, reflects on the growth and the importance of the project.

“Collectively, they raised $180,000 over the 19 universities last year, that grew to 23 this year. The overall campaign has raised over $500, 000 for the community.”

“The goal is to raise ten grand; that is our monetary goal.”

But besides the monetary gain from the campaign, Pilkey stresses the power of awareness.

“It’s a large issue in Regina, homelessness, and we just want to make people are aware of it,” she said. “That one in three homeless in Regina is youth, and basically to show that business students don’t just care about the bottom line, but that they also care about giving back to the community.”

There are more than just business students involved with the event. The five students participating come from an array of faculties. There are two business students, fourth-year Matt Styles and second-year Marit Johnson. First-year pre-journalism student Khang Nguygen is also involved, as well as pre-medical student Ezekial Steve. The fifth participant is third-year kinesiology student Brady Johnson.

As a kinesiology student, Johnson believes that she would never have heard of 5 Days for the Homeless – much like many of her other friends in her faculty – if she hadn’t known someone involved with last year’s project.

“I had a friend participate in the past and seeing his experience, and how influential it was within school and the city really made me want to be a part of it,” said Johnson. “Another reason I’m doing this is the challenge of not having necessities, not knowing where you’re sleeping at night. The challenges I’m facing this week are nothing compared to the challenges that many people in the city face.”

What Johnson and the other participants have to endure and sacrifice is trivial compared to the hardships that hundreds of homeless young adults that have sought shelter at the Carmichael Outreach have to face. Johnson admits the hardest thing to sacrifice is the modern luxuries. Forgoing the gym and healthy eating habits will be part of Johnson’s struggle.

“[The hardest thing to give up] for me is the safety and security and being connected to people through social networking, through Blackberries, Facebook, and Twitter,” Johnson said.

Many people don’t know, or understand, the everyday challenges that homeless people in Regina – and in the country – face. If someone can’t afford basic necessities like shelter or food, other things like education  are almost always out of the question.

Pilkey and Johnson both found, in the face of issues like homelessness, they were able to count their blessings.

“Students should care [about homelessness] because they are very fortunate to go to school and there are a lot of people who aren’t. If they are, it’s much more of a struggle for them,” said Pilkey. “It’s very important for students to be aware of what has been given to them.”

“Everything is so different from my everyday life, from what I’ve been blessed with, so its really great to be able to make a difference, to provide opportunities to those who may not be as blessed,” agreed Johnson.

Making a difference is particularly difficult when the issue isn’t as well known. Youth homelessness, specifically, is an overlooked issue, especially among the university demographic.

“Its such a hidden issue for university students,” said Pilkey.

Johnson agrees, “They should care because, right now, one in three homeless people are youth. This has a huge effect on the people around us, for many jobs and occupations. People will be dealing with it and maybe faced with it in the future. It is always an issue. It is always going to be there, taking steps to improve it now will only better it.”

With the recent affordable housing crisis in Regina, people may be faced with it at a rapid and alarming rate. Carmichael Outreach, the University of Regina’s beneficiary for both 2010 and 2011’s 5 Days for the Homeless, is an important organization for addressing these issues.

“Carmichael Outreach really focuses on sustaining and improvement,” said Johnson. “Any donation and any awareness are going to be used to the fullest and go the longest way. Every penny has a really big impact.”

Pilkey also appreciates the support of the community in making the 5 Days for the Homeless possible, specifically the Hill business students’ society and her committee.

According to Pilkey, the 5 Days for the Homeless event is something that the University of Regina plans to continue doing as an annual event. Johnson also hopes that it remains annual, as well as something that gains more attention and recognition.

“I want it to become more well known,” said Johnson. “There were 19 universities that participated last year, and now there are 23, so it is spreading the word nationally, for one. It will have an impact across the nation. Spreading the word across the city will also have a huge impact.”

Pilkey hopes that students got involved this week, and continue to get involved in any future 5 Days for the Homeless events. She urges students to donate at 5days.ca.

As Pilkey said, “It’s a good idea to give back to the community.”

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