Five students can be found sleeping just outside University Center for five consecutive days, from March 15-18 in support of Five Days for the Homeless, a national charity campaign created by business students.
The campaign was founded in 2005 by students from the school of business at the University of Alberta. Since then, the campaign has gained force across the country, with a record 22 schools participating this year. Five Days for the Homeless has raised over $520,000 for charitable organizations since it began.
Cheryl Walker, a second-year Asper school of business student and one of the marketing coordinators for the campaign, said that this is the third year that the campaign has been held at the U of M. Walker said the campaign is an important reminder for all students.
“Seeing students, your fellow peers [ . . . ] who are doing this, it brings awareness by making students think that this could be you or somebody you know who is living out on the street or who is just between houses — displaced, basically,” she said.
The participants will have to remain on campus for five days and are not allowed to have any source of income. Students must sleep outside; however, they must still attend all of their classes. Food will be given on a direct donation basis and washrooms can only be accessed when campus buildings are open. Students will be armed with a pillow, a sleeping bag and the clothes on their back, which can be exchanged for an emergency meal.
Students will have to avoid personal communication mediums, such as cell phones and social media sites, with an exception for writing daily blogs, said Walker.
The campaign does receive corporate sponsorship, said Walker. The money made throughout the campaign goes directly towards Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY Inc.), a non-profit agency for homeless youth in Winnipeg.
Zachary Derksen, a second-year Asper student, participated in the campaign last year. While he said the five nights were easier in some ways, what he had not been expecting was the criticism from other students.
“The campaign is not just some opportunity for a bunch of middle class university students to get together and pretend to be homeless — that’s not what it is about and that’s what a lot of people perceived it to be,” he said.
Derksen said the campaign aims to raise awareness and to foster discussion on the issue of homelessness, as well as to raise resources for an organization devoted to the issue.
“None of the  participants thought that we knew what it was like to be homeless afterwards,” said Derksen.
Derksen said many university students forget that there are people who are of the same age living on Winnipeg streets with close to nothing. In that sense, he found the experience to be humbling.
Matthew Sieben, also a second-year Asper student, is one of the participants this year and thinks the five days will definitely be a unique challenge.
“I wanted to get involved because issues like this need a voice. It is the voice of students [ . . . ] who participate that will break down the barriers of ‘that will never happen to me’ to reality,” he said.
All students participating this year are commerce students. Opening ceremonies will take place on Sunday in the Drake Lobby. The group will be hosting a BBQ on Tuesday and a coffeehouse in Degrees Diner on Wednesday.
Participants’ experiences will be posted on a blog, available on www.5days.ca.