5 days for the homeless: Commerce students face cold nights to raise awareness

Six Dalhousie University commerce students have spent the last five nights sleeping outside on a tarp-covered layer of cardboard. The group is raising money to spread awareness of homelessness.

Six Dalhousie University commerce students have spent the last five nights sleeping outside on a tarp-covered layer of cardboard. The group is raising money as part of a national initiative to spread awareness of homelessness, called 5 Days for the Homeless.

Twenty-four schools across Canada are participating in the event, but Dalhousie is the only participant east of Montreal.

This is Dalhousie’s second year participating in the event. Last year students raised just under $4,000, and this year their goal is to raise $12,500, said Hima Merdan, a fourth-year commerce student and one of the six participants sleeping outside at Dalhousie.

“But it’s more than just the dollar value. It’s about spreading awareness of [homelessness] and the fact that this could happen to anyone,” said Merdan.

All proceeds from this event are going to Phoenix Youth, a Halifax not-for-profit that provides housing and job counselling for struggling youth between the ages of 11 and 24.

“The first night was terrible, it was uncomfortable, it was cold,” said fourth-year commerce student Maddie Toohey, who is participating in the fundraiser for the first time. She said sleeping was easier the second night due to sheer exhaustion.

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The participants must follow several rules:

  • They may only eat and drink things that are donated to them.
  • They may not shower and can only use campus washrooms when they are open during the day.
  • They are allowed one pillow and one sleeping bag.
  • They are not allowed to use their cellphones or social media unless it is in promotion of the fundraiser or an emergency.
  • They must also attend all of their classes.

Toohey said it’s worth it, though. “What we’re doing isn’t that big a deal, compared to what people have to deal with every day. It’s great for us that we have an end in the future. We can see Friday and we can be like, ‘OK, only a little bit further,’ but the people that we’re doing this for can’t.”

Melanie Sturk, acting director of development at Phoenix Youth, said the Halifax-based organization helps more than 1,000 youths a year and it would be impossible to do that without third-party fundraisers like 5 Days for the Homeless.

“Not only are they raising money, but they’re also helping to raise awareness of Phoenix and homelessness,” said Sturk.