Cold nights, warm hearts

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Five Days for the Homeless returns to Regina

Kyle Leitch
Contributor

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is one thing, but sleeping on their concrete is something else entirely.

That’s what five University of Regina students found themselves doing this weekend. As the third-annual Five Days for the Homeless campaign kicked off March 4, students representing several faculties covered the ground in cardboard, sleeping bags, and signs, and prepared to face the next few (mercifully mild) nights.

The rules of the event are very simple: the students must remain on campus for five days, they cannot have any income and are not allowed to purchase anything, they may only consume what is donated to them, they may only have a pillow and sleeping bag, they cannot access showers or student facilities, they must sleep outside, they must avoid social media and they must attend all classes.

Five Days for the Homeless was conceived at the University of Alberta Business School in 2005. Students there wanted to simultaneously raise awareness about the growing issue of homelessness and to challenge the stereotype of the greedy business student.

The inaugural event raised $2,000 for the Youth Emergency Shelter Society (YESS), a local charity organization in Edmonton. In 2011, 22  campuses had joined the cause and they collectively raised over $220,000. Naturally, I needed to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.

“Five Days for the Homeless was something positive to do for the community,” explained U of R fourth-year business administration student Sarah Stewart. “The positive environment of last year really resonated with me.”

The five participating students and I were huddled on our makeshift bed – sheets of donated cardboard – discussing the impact of Five Days.

“Students wonder who these people are and when you tell them that you’re sitting outside for five days … then they really listen,” says Andrew Burant.

Though the event is now three years old at the U of R, each of the five participants in this year’s event are taking part for the first time. Ally Pilkey, one of the co-chairs of the Regina chapter of the event, says this lack of past experience only serves to strengthen the event.

“They have a huge impact on the success of the event because they’re the ones who get into it, drive the event forward, and drive more people to participate,” Pilkey explained.

In fact, two of last year’s participants brought our small camp Tim Horton’s hot chocolate to help combat the cold.

Sleep came a little bit tougher than one would expect, the cold notwithstanding. Campus security had to make sure we were still alive in the early hours of the morning and, at 5 a.m., the camp was awakened by the arrival of no less than three garbage trucks in the small receiving area below. Finally, at 7 a.m., we were up and moving, ready to start our week of fundraising.

Sarah Stewart assured me the student response to Five Days was very positive. However, one cannot fully grasp the generosity of the folks on campus until they join in the fundraising efforts for themselves. I was out in force with the Five Days camp, shaking the bright orange collection can, trying to raise all the money I could for Carmichael Outreach. Of course, there were those who would not make eye contact with us – one student even sprinted away from us – but there were also those that gladly donated $10 and  $20 bills and assured us they would be donating again.

The cold, lack of facilities, and the generosity of students will not deter these brave men and women. So what does worry the camp?

“Underwear,” Pilkey stated. “We had a great big lecture from a woman from Carmichael Outreach about how to wear underwear for five days.”

If underwear is the only thing that worries the camp, then its fundraising goal of $17,000 should be a walk in the park.

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