Out in the elements
For the seventh consecutive year, participants of 5 Days for the Homeless have been taking a week out of their normal university lives and sleeping outdoors on Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus in order to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness.
This year, the campaign is running Mar. 9-13.
“We hope to raise $15,000 this year and we are doing really well so far,” said Danielle Bouw, public relations director for the event.
5 Days for the Homeless, which is run by the School of Business and Economics Students’ Society, met their $15,000 goal last year and donated the money to the same two local youth shelters that they donate to every year: Reaching Our Outdoor Friends (ROOF) and Argus Residence for Young People.
“These two amazing organizations actually help rehabilitate homeless youth so that they are able to get jobs and get back on their feet,” explained second-year kinesiology student, Megan McBride, who is sleeping outside this week in support of the campaign. “And the more awareness and donations we can get means more people who are going to be able to get back on track and help prevent homelessness.”
Not everyone on campus agrees with this event’s methods of raising awareness, however, and some argue that their outdoor camp does not accurately represent homelessness.
“We aren’t trying to pretend that after a week of camping outside that we know what it’s like to be homeless,” said Bouw. “But seeing these participants out in the cold … right here in front of the FNCC [Fred Nichols Campus Centre] where so many students walk by each day can remind them that there are people actually living outside who need [support].”
Bouw and the other participants involved in 5 Days for the Homeless are aware of the stigma on campus that simulating homelessness is making light of the reality of some people’s situations, but insist that the visual is key in promoting awareness for their cause.
According to Bouw, they encourage anyone with questions about what they are doing to approach the participants.
“We’ve had people come up to us and ask us before why we are pretending to be homeless, and as soon as we explain it to them we find they understand it a lot better and sometimes even come back with a coffee to help get us through,” said 5 Days participant and fourth-year bachelor of business administration (BBA) student, Jeff Lei.
While class is mandatory for the students participating, most of their student luxuries are prohibited during their camp outside: no electronics are allowed, any food they eat must be donated to them, only public bathrooms may be used and all monetary donations are given to ROOF and Argus.
“This experience really puts my life into perspective,” shared Lei about the event so far. “I’ve wanted to participate in this since first year. It was kind of on my university bucket list and I’m really glad that I did this, because it makes you appreciate what you’ve got and makes you think a bit more about what other people don’t have.”