Sleeping outside on the ground in the cold when you don’t have to may seem like an odd idea, but that’s exactly what some students did last week to raise awareness and money.
Five Days for the Homeless is a student initiative carried out all across Canada. It started at the University of Alberta and has spread to other universities across the country. Last year, the campaign raised over $240,000 with 24 schools participating. Students spend five days sleeping outside and eating only what is given to them to raise money and awareness for the homeless. This is the first year that UTM has participated in the campaign, which ran from last Sunday to Friday and was a collaboration between Habitat@UTM and Residence Council. Their goal for the event was to raise $5,000.
Kathleen Glofcheskie, a fourth-year specialist in finance, organized the event. “When I came to UTM I started a Habitat for Humanity club,” said Glofcheskie. “This year I wanted to do a something special, and the Five Days for the Homeless Campaign came to mind, so I proposed the idea to the club members and we decided to give it a try.”
A total of 25 volunteers participated, including five full-time sleepers and 18 part-time sleepers for the five nights. They had placed donation boxes throughout the school and collected canned foods for the UTM Food Bank.
Gina Cellucci, a third-year student majoring in women and gender studies, was the event’s social media coordinator.
“I like to give back to my community and help those in need,” said Cellucci. “When I heard that our club was taking part in Five Days for the Homeless, I was very excited. This is the first time anything like this has happened at UTM, and I think it’s a great way to raise awareness for homelessness.
“I think that many disregard homelessness,” she added. “It’s something that goes unnoticed every day. We forget that many individuals out there don’t have the privilege of living the life we live. […] I believe that this campaign is very unique because it allows the volunteers to promote agency and create change. The best way to understand homelessness is to put yourself in their state of being, live the way they live, experience what they experience.”
All the proceeds raised from this event will go to Habitat for Humanity, a global organization that addresses issues of poverty housing. The organization’s Canadian chapter regularly recruits volunteers to build affordable homes for families in the GTA.
“I think it’s great that people are fighting for a cause, but I think they might not be doing it in the right way,” commented Nicole Wieser, a fourth-year CCIT and linguistics major, in an interview. “I’m not sure how many university students are actually going to donate or even know about the reason they are doing it for. There needs to be more awareness. But all in all, I think it’s good what they are trying to do.”
Throughout the week, students and clubs donated cold and hot food and supplies, including a heat lamp and electric grill. One of the volunteers reported that Whole Foods had also promised to support them.
In addition to sleeping outside during the week, students held other events, including a grilled cheese sale, a magician performing card tricks, a movie night, a bake sale, and a 50/50 raffle. Rogers TV stopped by to interview some of the sleepers. MP Brad Butt also came by to visit, and MP Dipika Damerla slept outside the Student Centre along with the volunteers on Thursday night.
“I know that we raised funds to help a family in need and that I gained valuable insight, which will allow me to be more empathetic to those in need,” wrote Hernandez-Oberding, a second-year math and logic major who volunteered to sleep outside, in an email. “I hope that the [campus] will be a little more empathetic to those in need, and that we made people question whether such a disparity in wealth is acceptable.”