Sleeping on the Streets: University Students “Homeless” for 5 Days

Last week, students from Carleton University and the University of Ottawa hit the streets of Ottawa to raise awareness on homelessness in Canada. A national campaign, 5 Days for the Homeless invites university students to live "homeless" on their campus and raise money and awareness for a local charity of their choice.

The initiative was created in 2005 by students from the University of Alberta’s School of Business. This year, students from 24 universities across Canada participated in 5 Days for the Homeless. As part of the campaign, participants agreed to sleep outdoors for 5 days and 5 nights and panhandled to collect money for their chosen charity.

Both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa chose Operation Come Home as their charity for this year’s campaign. Operation Come Home (OCH) works with at-risk and homeless youth, in order to prevent them from becoming homeless adults. OCH offers many programs and services for homeless youth, in areas like education, outreach, housing and employment.

"We were thrilled to be chosen as this year’s charity for the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign at both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa," explained Jamie Hammond, Financial Literacy and Communications Officer at OCH. "It was our second year working with both schools; both teams have an honest respect and appreciation for the services that we offer at OCH." This year, Carleton established a goal of raising $12,500 while the University of Ottawa’s goal was $10,000.

Students who participated in this initiative followed a specific set of rules during the 5 days. These rules included:

– Remaining on campus for the entire five days of the campaign.
– Participants were only allowed to eat food that was donated to them.
– Participants were not allowed to shower during the five days.
– Washrooms could only be accessed when campus buildings were open.
– Participants were not allowed to use their laptops and cell phones.

In addition to following these rules, students had to attend all their classes and complete all their assignments.

During the 5 days of the campaign, staff and youth from OCH visited the sites where the students were staying. "The participants were part of an important campaign, and we felt that by visiting them we were able to demonstrate our thanks and support," said Hammond. Staff members at OCH brought snacks and coffee during different times of the day. Participants of OCH's Health Matters program prepared supper to the students at both Carleton and University of Ottawa once during the week. "Volunteering to sleep outside for five days is a pretty big sacrifice, so we wanted to show them how much we appreciated what they were doing."

In addition, participants received visits from several special guests during the five days. Justin Trudeau slept at the Carleton campus on the Monday night, while Olivia Chow visited participants at the University of Ottawa. Mathieu Fleury, City Counsellor in Ottawa, served coffee at the University of Ottawa Monday morning while the Dean of Carleton's Sprott Business School slept outside on campus Tuesday night. Finally, on Friday, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, visited the participants at the University of Ottawa while Yasir Naqvi, MPP for Ottawa Centre, stopped by Carleton to speak with participants.

After the 5 days, the students of Carleton managed to raise $10,116.22. Meanwhile, the University of Ottawa came close to their goal with $8,801.83 raised. Both teams worked tirelessly and their hard work definitely paid off. So far, a grand total of $231,523 has been raised by universities across Canada who participated in the campaign.

"5 Days for the Homeless is important because it can bring homelessness “closer to home” for some people," said Hammond. "By coming together on campus, the participants were able to spread awareness about youth homelessness in a big way and they have the opportunity to talk with their peers about a problem that currently exists in Ottawa."

Want to help eliminate homelessness in Canada? It’s not too late to help! To make a donation or for more information, please visit the 5 Days for the Homeless website.