Over five days, six University of Calgary students will be living homeless on campus from March 11–15. The initiative is part of 5 Days for the Homeless, a national campaign that began at the University of Alberta in 2008 and has raised $985,000 so far. This year, 26 universities are participating.
This will be the U of C’s inaugural year of the challenge. Students are allowed to attend classes and go inside the buildings on campus, however, they are not allowed to have their wallets, cell phones or house keys and must sleep outside. Participants can only eat donated food.
In Calgary, all proceeds will be donated to Boys and Girls Club Avenue 15, an organization that aids homeless and runaway youth between 12–17 years of age in Calgary.
The U of C’s 5 Days for the Homeless chair and accounting student Haley Kemmer said they hope to raise $10,000.
“They’ll be sleeping outside, they have no shelter, no income and anything that they eat all has to be donated to them,” said Kemmer.
She hopes the initiative can raise awareness of youth homelessness.
“The campaign is working to combat some negative stereotypes that there might be regarding youth homelessness,” said Kemmer. “Youth homelessness is often an invisible issue, people don’t see it every day, so they think that it doesn’t exist. It actually is a strong problem in Calgary right now.”
Kemmer hopes that as many U of C students as possible engage with the initiative.
“We’re really hoping that this campaign is campus-wide,” said Kemmer. “We really want to make sure that everyone knows this is a university initiative, and even going beyond that — it’s a Calgary initiative.”
Fifth-year law and society student Ryland Brennan is participating in 5 Days for the Homeless. He said that although it is tough, he is very excited about the reaction the initiative has received.
“What I’ve noticed is that, especially with the eating, because there’s a barrier to your access to food, it’s all you think about,” said Brennan. “Applying this experience to experiencing poverty and those barriers every day, it baffles me what people who go through poverty in their everyday lives experience.”
The participants are sleeping outside of the Kinesiology Building. Brennan said that the cold and the snow have been challenging.
“We’re indebted in terms of our degrees, but that’s a very different aspect of poverty than not being able to eat or to literally sleep out on the streets,” said Brennan. “I hope that this campaign encourages students to think about homelessness in a new way.”
Second-year business student and participant Alissa Fahrner said 5 Days for the Homeless offers a new way to learn about homelessness.
“We are out and about and it’s a new and different way to create awareness,” said Fahrner.
A closing ceremony will be held on March 15 in the Taylor Family Quadrangle at 5 p.m.