In an effort to raise awareness about homelessness and gather donations for a local non-profit organization, several University of Manitoba students are preparing to spend five consecutive days sleeping outside as a part of the national campaign, 5 Days for the Homeless.
The Asper school of business is housing the campaign for the fifth year, raising money for Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), which works with and supports street-involved and homeless youth in Winnipeg.
Emily Ashley, a marketing and finance student in the Asper school of business, has been involved in the campaign in previous years, but only in the planning process. This year will be her first as a participant sleeping outside.
“I would love to say that I was fully excited but I am kind of nervous to be honest [ . . . ] you have to reach a state of vulnerability when you are doing this and I’m not used to that,” admitted Ashley.
Supply chain and logistics student Jill Stevens was a sleeping participant in 2012 and has taken on the marketing responsibilities of the campaign this year.
“It was a challenge [ . . . ] One of the biggest things I realized throughout the campaign is that I knew I was going home on Friday so I just had to get to that day and then I was done, whereas someone who is homeless doesn’t have the luxury of getting to that target date,” said Stevens of her experience.
Stevens continued to explain that the campaign t-shirts participants wore acted as a security blanket throughout the week.
“I could hide behind that t-shirt, whereas someone that was actually homeless wouldn’t be able to explain to people why they didn’t look as put together as people expect them to.”
Participants in the campaign will sleep outside from March 10 – 15 and must follow strict rules. These include restrictions from areas that their student card allows them exclusive access to, and any food consumed must be perishable food gathered through donations; they will also not receive income, have no participation in any personal communication media, and will demonstrate continued attendance in their classes.
Throughout the campaign’s history, the event has produced some criticism. Claims that the participants are not truly experiencing homelessness is a common critique that the students have faced.
“We really stress that we’re not trying to imitate homelessness because you can’t really do that. We just want to start a conversation about the topic so that people are educated on the facts of youth homelessness,” said Ashley.
Stevens continued, “At the end of the day, RaY supports the campaign [ . . . ] They agree with what we’re doing.”
In 2012, nearly $20,000 was donated to RaY through fundraising activities that occurred during the weeklong event, including a coffee house, pancake breakfasts, and a barbeque, all of which are included in this year’s campaign.
While raising money for the non-profit and educating the student body on youth homelessness are the main focuses of the event, 5 Days for the Homeless also unintentionally serves to change common perceptions of Asper students.
“People usually have a stereotypical belief that business students are all about the bottom line and making profit and, in reality, [ . . . ] we do [the campaign] for something bigger: for social responsibility and to make a difference,” said Ashley.