Five University of Saskatchewan students have been sleeping outside since March 9 as part of the annual 5 Days for the Homeless campaign.
The Canada-wide 5 Days for the Homeless campaign raises money and awareness for homelessness across the country. Participants sleep outside on their campus for five nights with only a sleeping bag, pillow and the clothes they are wearing. They must survive solely on food donations made to them.
All non-perishable foods and non-food items given to the U of S campaign are being given directly to Egadz, a local community-based organization that works to support at-risk youth in Saskatoon. Egadz runs a variety of programs including meal plans, teen-parent education, school support and street outreach initiatives.
“We’re so honoured. It’s really special that young people are trying to make a difference and to know they care about this issue,” said Don Meikle, acting executive director of Egadz.
The five U of S students involved in the campaign as homeless participants — Lane Bannerman, Alex Denysiuk, Jordana Knobluach, Amber Freistadt and Matt Brennan — were in high spirits at press time after their first two nights outside.
“It’s been pretty good. The first night we didn’t get much sleep, but it’s humbling to know what homeless people face and the different challenges. It’s been pretty cold, but it’s been an alright week so far,” Bannerman said.
The group spent the night of March 9 between the Agri-Canada greenhouses, where their already restless night was cut short by the building’s automated lights early in the morning.
“We thought we had the perfect location, we were in between these greenhouses, it was pretty sheltered and it was dark,” Brennan said. “Then the greenhouse lights came on at 4 a.m. and lit up our spot.”
The group’s consensus was that sleep was a challenge, but everyone acknowledged that they’ve developed a new understanding for what Saskatoon’s homeless population experiences on a daily basis.
“It’s been tough getting to sleep. You’re lying there thinking, ‘Man, how can I get comfortable?’ and then you realize I’m doing this for five days and other people have to do this for however long,” Brennan said. “The tossing and turning, you don’t really get comfortable, you just make do with what you have.”
The participants expressed gratitude about the favorable weather conditions for their week outside. Temperatures during the day have been climbing above zero degrees, but have been dipping back into the negatives overnight.
“I think we’ve been fairly fortunate. I mean, in Saskatchewan, in comparison to what we’re used to, this is pretty nice,” Bannerman said. “But even last night, it dipped down pretty low. I think we can be thankful for the weather we’ve had to this week.”
During the 5 Days campaign in 2013, temperatures dropped to as low as -27 C with windchill at night. Though the official campaign rules say participants can move inside if “inclement weather becomes a health risk,” the group took it as a challenge and slept underneath the law building anyway.
With this year’s warmer temperatures comes the challenge of melting snow. However, the participants said that staying dry hasn’t been an issue yet.
“It hasn’t snowed on us and we’ve been fortunate enough that nothing around us has melted.” Brennan said, adding that temperatures have been low enough at night to keep things frozen.
The campaign’s participants are required to attend all regular classes and extracurricular activities during the course of the week. Freistadt said that this has posed a challenge in itself.
“Class is pretty tiring, but once you’re outside of class, you get to come to the tunnel and raise money, so it’s been solid,” Freistadt said.
The participants said the campus community has been supportive of the campaign and attributed its success to the generosity of the U of S as a whole.
“The university’s been pretty sweet at raising awareness through people who aren’t involved in the campaign and continuing to support Egadz,” Freistadt said.
Photo: Jordan Dumba/Photo Editor