More constructive ways to address homelessness

Over the course of the week students at Laurier will not be able to help but notice the presence of students huddled together outside as part of the “5 Days for the Homeless” campaign.

To raise awareness for the approximately 2,000 homeless people in Waterloo Region, the School of Business and Economics Students’ Society hires four students to pretend to be homeless for five days. They are not allowed to have income, food or drink that is not donated, cannot use communications technology and must sleep outside.

One might equate this with camping outside for a few days. And they would be correct. It is clear the participants are not experiencing real hunger, as shown by the abundance of empty pizza boxes and coffee cups around their location, generously donated by students. While we applaud efforts to try and help ease the homelessness problem in the region, we can’t help but wonder if there are better ways to serve this end.

First, we can’t help but feel that some advocacy campaigns are less about the issue itself and more about making the people that participate feel good about themselves — to ease their guilt over their own wealth and not doing more, whether it is volunteering or donating to the cause. This can partially be seen in the rather condescending signs posted by the activists on campus that reek of moral indignation directed at other students, such as “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Second, perhaps a better use of time for all those that participated would be to spend several days volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen or devoting their time to raising money and lobbying public officials for policy change. As admirable as raising awareness is, we don’t think people are in denial about the existence of homeless people and seeing privileged university students “tough it out” for a few days isn’t going to change anything. The disagreement rests on what to do about the problem, which activists aren’t addressing.

Homelessness is a problem, but there are more constructive ways to handle it.