5 Days for the Homeless simulates the experience of homeless youth in Canada

From Mar. 8 to Mar. 13, five students at universities around Canada put their survival to the test by simulating an experience of homelessness for five days in order to raise awareness for a vulnerable group of Canadians, partnering with local charities which help those who are currently experiencing homelessness.

Now in its eighth year, the Laurier chapter of the campaign will be donating their funds raised to OneROOF and Argus.

The goal this year is $17,000. To raise funds for this campaign, the teams host a series of events, including a “kickoff night” with opening ceremonies, a barbecue fundraiser, a flag football tournament — which was, unfortunately, cancelled due to the weather — a silent auction and karaoke night, as well as boothing throughout the period.

“We try to focus on a lot of outdoor activities to try and really naturally get people to empathize for that feeling of being out in the cold — and then ultimately realize that they get to go home to a warm bed and heat, food that they have at their disposal,” said Noelle Rossi, president of Laurier’s “5 Days For the Homeless” campaign.

Currently, the figure raised is $2776.60, meaning that the campaign is quite far from its intended goal. However, Rossi is not concerned about this.

“The main thing is that we really want to start conversations and change as many perspectives as possible. If we change one perspective, then I’ll call it a success,” Rossi said.

“They get to layer up or email their roommates from the computers on campus and say: ‘look, I didn’t bring enough shoes, sweaters, can you bring me more?’. That’s not a reality for people who really are experiencing homelessness,” she said.

This year’s participants are Alyssa Shields, Alessandro Portanova, Kevin Nam, Sandy Tedjasubrata and Adelaide Baker.

“[They are] incredibly brave individuals, who I think — not only before, but after [the campaign] — are able to sympathize with the idea of not having a place to call home or feel safe,” Rossi said.

“[They are] also people who notice that there is a group of people who are often invisible, they’re often stigmatized and they do a really incredible job of putting a face to that.”

There are restrictions for the participants: they cannot shower for the five days, have access to their personal technology — phones or laptops — cannot have disposable income, relying instead on food donations, cannot leave the campus and most importantly, must maintain all their academic and extra-curricular responsibilities.

“We really want to emphasize the fact that these people who don’t necessarily have a place to call home, still have to maintain those responsibilities,” Rossi said.

However, they are allowed to use computers that are available on campus, such as in the 24 Lounge, the library or the computer labs, as well as rent computers from the U-Desk, which are available to any student, regardless of their housing status.

“They often rely on their very generous roommates, friends and people just passing by. This year, we’ve had a whole bunch of really generous people … people have come by with really generous donations of fresh fruit [, etc.],” Rossi said.

This campaign has not been without its criticism. Rossi, however, acknowledges the limitations and problems regarding this simulation of homelessness.

“The most accurate part of it is that they sleep outside. But we have to take into consideration … is the fact that they have an end to it … youth who are experiencing homelessness don’t have that opportunity,” Rossi said.

“They get food donated to them, basically at every meal — and if they don’t, then we get to cover it on our budget, which is amazing for us, but that’s not the case for people who are actually experiencing homelessness.”

“They get to layer up or email their roommates from the computers on campus and say: ‘look, I didn’t bring enough shoes, sweaters, can you bring me more?’. That’s not a reality for people who really are experiencing homelessness,” she said.

The key point of the campaign, Rossi emphasizes, is that the participants have made a choice that is not available for everyone, which they are becoming more aware of.

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