Every year in early March, five students from the University of Saskatchewan raise funds for the Saskatoon Downtown Youth Centre Inc. — better known as EGADZ — by living as members of the homeless community on campus for five days. Despite critiques, it’s an impressive endeavour.
Finding its beginnings at the University of Alberta in 2005, the concept behind 5 Days for the Homeless emerged when students in Edmonton wanted to increase awareness about the homeless population in their city. Since then, similar funding campaigns have spread to include participants from 22 universities across Canada.
From March 11 to 16, five students from here at the U of S will live without the comforts that many of us take for granted. They will live outside — with just a sleeping bag and without easy access to luxuries like indoor plumbing — while continuing to attend their classes and hand in their assignments. That’s no easy feat, especially during this high-stress time of year.
In past years, this campaign has come under fire for blindly appropriating the lifestyle of people who have become homeless. Autumn LaRose-Smith, a second-year SUNTEP student and 5D4H program co-ordinator and participant — or sleeper — for this year’s campaign, says this is simply not the case.
“We all recognize that we are not in any way homeless. What we are trying to do is bring to light the hidden homeless population,” LaRose-Smith said. “People tend to turn a blind eye to the homeless members of our community, because sometimes, it is easier to forget and ignore.”
LaRose-Smith emphasizes that, while the fundraiser’s performative element is meant to raise awareness, the focus of the initiative remains to raise funds and support for a reputable, local organization that supports displaced or disadvantaged youth.
“[At the U of S, 5D4H] manages to raise not only a monetary donation of approximately 20,000 dollars [but also] gather hundreds of donations of items such as food, clothing, toiletries and school supplies … all in under a month of planning and one week of events and fundraisers,” LaRose-Smith said.
She adds that the participants know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“None of the sleepers are actually homeless — we all had the privilege of preparing for our week away from our beds. We have a countdown,” LaRose-Smith said. “We know that in however-many-more days we can go home and shower, snuggle in a blanket and go on our phones, whereas so many people who do face homelessness do not have the luxury of saying the same.”
Many criticize this event for its depiction of homelessness, comparing the faults of the campaign to the appropriation of various cultures and identities.
However, it should be remembered that 5 Days for the Homeless at the U of S is not a directionless fundraiser for an ambiguous global homeless population, but rather, it is a focused and previously quite successful endeavour to raise funds for a community organization, so they can have the tools and resources needed to make real change here in Saskatoon.
Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag / Photo Editor