For the last seven years, Dalhousie Commerce Society members have been sleeping on the streets for five days every March to fundraise for local shelters and raise awareness for youth at risk of homelessness.
The 5 Days campaign is a national initiative. It “strives to raise funds and awareness for people experiencing homelessness and people at-risk of experiencing homelessness in Canada,” according to Jenn Dubois, a participant in the campaign.
It was founded in 2005 by a group of students from the University of Alberta, with a goal to support local homeless shelters and raise awareness of an increase in housing insecurity.
Dubois is also a staff member at Phoenix Youth, a nonprofit organization that aims to support Halifax’s youth with securing adequate housing, alongside other types of support. Phoenix Youth partnered with the Dal Commerce Society in 2014, in support of the 5 Days campaign.
Sabina Pollayparambil, a staff member at Phoenix Youth, said: “Phoenix strives to help youth build their skills for independence and helps youth and their families overcome challenges … people are the leaders in their own lives, Phoenix is a leader in supporting them.”
In 2018, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness reported 220 Haligonians experiencing homelessness.
Significantly, the Housing and Homelessness Partnership reported over 19,500 households in HRM are living in extreme housing poverty and are at risk of experiencing homelessness.
To raise awareness, this year Dalhousie’s 5 Days campaign participants are camping out March 22-27.
Dubois became involved with the campaign, and Phoenix Youth, last year when she heard about the opportunity to become a “guest sleeper,” a term used by the campaign to describe the participants.
Dubois said Dal’s Commerce Society reached out to Phoenix Youth after being inspired by what the program does for the Halifax community. “With all the amazing work that Phoenix does, the DCS felt this was a great organization to partner with and has continued to work with the team since,” she said.
An important thing to note, Dubois said, is students who partake in the campaign have to remember to not exploit homelessness.
“Students and participants need to bear in mind that 5 Days is not meant to replicate the experience of homelessness or diminish it in any sort of way,” she said. “The purpose of the campaign is to draw attention to the issue of youth homelessness and raise funds that will help youth to be supported in their journey, gain skills and independent housing.”
It’s been a success
Since 2014, the society has raised $67,000 for the campaign, working with Phoenix Youth. Dubois says she hopes the society will raise another $15,000 this year.
Other than sleeping outside, a big part of the campaign is community outreach.
“This year we are really trying to push the campaign out into the community. We want to bring awareness to students and those within the HRM about how far their donations can go and why it’s so important to get involved within the community,” says Dubois.
For Phoenix Youth, 5 Days gives them an outlet to raise funds for their organization, according to member Pollayparambil.
“The efforts put forth by students participating and supporting the 5 Days campaign goes a long way in ensuring that youth who are experiencing homelessness will have a safe place to call home.”