If you want to raise awareness for homelessness, really take it seriously
Author: Alicia Miller
The Business Students Society’s ‘Five Days For the Homeless’ campaign is admirable for raising awareness for homelessness and donating proceeds to the Carmichael Outreach. It involves five students who donate five days of their lives to sleeping outside of the university in the same clothes, not showering, getting food only through donations, and only going inside for classes. Very admirable, and few people can say they would do the same.
However, I would like to point out a few things about this campaign that seem problematic, given the cause’s nature. First, these students are only spending five days outside, and even then they are doing it in mild weather and near the university. Most homeless people are homeless for a lot longer than five days, don’t tend to be hanging out in groups, and they generally hang out around downtown areas of their cities. Now, obviously, it is unrealistic to expect university students to give up much more than five days pretending to be homeless, but outside of the university campus, I did not see a single sign advertising this campaign anywhere else. Perhaps it would be a more effective campaign if these students slept downtown, in ratty clothes, and begged for spare change. Otherwise, this campaign kind of seems more like a camping trip, since most homeless people don’t have clean proper clothing and would be kicked off property such as a university campus if they were caught sleeping there.
Second, I have heard that some of these students had to take time off from work in order to participate. That is commendable because they are forgoing income for a cause they believe in. However, if the point is to raise awareness for homelessness, I would hope that this kind of comment would not make its way outside of that group of people. Why? Well, is it not a privilege to have a job and to be able to take time off from it and not worry about how losing wages can make you… homeless? A lot of people who aren’t homeless can’t afford to take days off from work because they live paycheque to paycheque; doing so would cause them to lose their residence.
Lastly, these are university students camping outside of the university, presumably with people they know. There is a high likelihood that these people aren’t going to starve because friends and family will likely bring them food (although I’m not sure if there is a rule prohibiting that), so there isn’t really much of the desperation behind donations as there would be by an actual homeless person. Not to mention some homeless people can and do go a lot longer than five days without any food at all. As well, this is the university. These five students are being treated with respect, a courtesy not extended to most on the street. We’re all sympathetic to the cause and I’m sure many of us have donated, but there really is little true and actual legitimate experience being had by these students in terms of what it feels like to truly be homeless.
I am not trying to discredit the cause or its participants, because it really is a great thing to raise awareness for, but the way in which it is gone about is shrouded by the privilege of the people who participate in it. Not to mention the fact that after five days, these students just get to go back to their normal lives – a very big privilege not shared by the homeless populace.
Obviously, it takes a lot to commit to a cause in such a way as these five students have, and they definitely do care about what they’re doing because they wouldn’t be doing it otherwise, and that’s great. More people should aspire to this, but I kind of equate it to the irony of having a hotdog-eating contest to raise money to end hunger. In the end, awareness is raised and money is collected for the cause, but some critical thought needs to be given to the way in which we arrive at that end goal so it doesn’t detract from the good that is being done.