Event chair and spokesman Peirce Dickson poses during the Fivehole for Five Days street hockey tournament in a parking lot on the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry Campus in Winnipeg on Sunday. The event is one of a number taking place in support of the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign, which is raising funds for Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY). In trying to raise awareness and funds through the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign, a fifth-year student at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business got schooled himself.
In 2014, Austin Coombes was the chair for the national event, now in its 10th year on campus, which this year will see six students sleep outside in a shelter near University Centre from Monday until Friday.
While maintaining their academic commitments, the six ‘sleepers’ have only a pillow, sleeping bag and the clothes on their backs, and no access to their funds, showers or other student facilities. They can only eat and drink that which is donated to them, and use cellphones to promote the campaign.
As chair, Coombes couldn’t be one of the sleepers four years ago. But he wanted to have that experience before moving on from university, and will find himself sleeping under the stars in much warmer temperatures this time around.
“The big thing for me, when I ran it in 2014, I was really clueless about the homeless issue in Winnipeg,” Coombes said Sunday. “To be completely honest, I was one of the people who made jokes and would be very offensive because I was simply uneducated.
“After two or three nights on campus, you realize there’s a lot of issues and things that don’t have simple solutions.”
A 2015 Winnipeg Street Census determined there were 1,400 homeless people in Winnipeg, with 294 of those youth. Among those, 84% were Indigenous and 48% female. New data is to be collected in April.
The 5 Days for the Homeless campaign began at the University of Alberta’s School of Business in 2005, going national three years later, and has raised nearly $1.9 million to date.
“When you hear stories of people who are in these situations, it’s something uncontrollable or something terrible that’s happened to them or their family,” said Peirce Dickson, this year’s event chair. “Bad circumstances (that show) it can be anyone and it’s luck and privilege to not have to experience that.”
The U of M campaign has set a goal of $30,000. Funds raised go to Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), a non-profit, street-level agency working with street entrenched and homeless youth up to the age of 29. It has a non-judgemental, non-partisan, harm-reduction approach summed up by its mission statement: “To provide youth with what they need, on their terms, to better live their lives.”
The majority of donations come from staff and students over the five days, with a number of smaller events, such as Sunday’s Fivehole for the Homeless street hockey tournament and a social at the St. Norbert Hotel on Thursday night. Visit 5days.ca if you’d like to donate, or learn more.
“Before I graduated it’s something I wanted to do, to try and educate people the way I was educated,” said Coombes. “It’s completely changed the way I look at the population of Winnipeg.”
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