By: TARA SPRICKERHOFF
Cold, unshowered, sleeping on pallets of cardboard and holding a water jug for donations, five Carleton students spent a week camped out in front of the University Centre trying to reduce the stigma surrounding homelessness in Canada.
The students were participating in 5 Days for the Homeless, a Canada wide initiative that ran from March 10-15. It aims to increase awareness about homelessness and donate money to local charities.
While spending five days outdoors, the students tried to raise money and awareness about homelessness — sometimes by holding up signs complimenting Carleton students and sometimes staying huddled in donated army surplus sleeping bags as the temperature dropped to -16.
The students raised $7752.50 for Operation Come Home, just over $2,000 shy of their $10,000 goal.
Operation Come Home is a local organization that works to find permanent solutions for homeless youth and young adults by getting them off the street and into education programs or jobs.
The students could not use technology, shower, sleep inside or even change clothing during the event — all while attending regular classes. They could also only eat food donated by other people.
“It’s difficult, studying outside is a little tough — you lose concentration,” said second year student Sarah Paterson, who was participating for her second year in the event.
Mya Keffer, another participant, said that while the response has been generally friendly, the initiative has opened her eyes to the experiences of the homeless.
“I have a new respect for them,” said Keffer.
However, some of the reaction has been skeptical. Many people did not want to donate to the cause.
“I think it’s because there is a stigma around homeless youth and people in general. People say it’s just because they can’t get a job,” said Keffer.
Despite a perception that laziness is a main factor in homelessness, a study from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said some of the main reasons for youth homelessness were family breakdown, family violence, and mental health problems.
“People don’t realize it’s not a choice,” said Paterson.
Both Paterson and Keffer said they are going to react differently when faced with the homeless downtown.
“It’s acknowledgment, not just walking by and pretending they are not there,” said Paterson.
“I am going to take food to people downtown because we’ve been so fortunate. We’ve had lots of food,” said Keffer.
However, Paterson wondered whether the people who had been so generous to the 5 Day participants were as generous to the homeless they encountered.
“You wonder how many of the people who gave us food give food to actual homeless people.”