by Leila Beaudoin
Five students from the University of Regina are sleeping outside this week to see what it's like to be homeless.
The temperature dropped to -15 C. It was dark and frighteningly quiet. Five University of Regina students huddled together outside of the Riddell center in an attempt to warm up. Homeless, they had nowhere to sleep – no shelter. Nor would they the next five nights.
“It was more difficult than I expected” said Cheryl McKay. McKay is one of five business administration students who are voluntarily going homeless to raise awareness and funds for the Carmichael Outreach Center.
The rules: remain on campus for 5 days, have no income, have only a pillow and a sleeping bag, have no access to showers, or facilities to which their students’ status would usually grant them access, sleep outside, attend all classes, avoid personal communication mediums and write about their experiences.
The students dressed in their bright orange “5 Days” shirts and cardboard signs asking for donations are a sharp contrast to the typical university setting.
McKay said she found it really hard not communicating with her friends. She was tired and didn’t sleep the night before. But she thinks it’s all worth it. “It grabs peoples attention; it’s not every day you see students sleeping outside,” she said.
“Five days is a long time. I think sleeping outside for one night is challenging when it’s cold like this. But a whole week when you’re a student, it’s big work!” said Shawn Fraser, executive director of Carmichael Outreach Center.
The donation will have an impact, Fraser said. “It’s really going to be a big drop in a small bucket,” said Fraser. He says the money will help Carmichael offer shelter, a needle exchange, food, medical services and clothing.
Fraser added that homelessness is hidden in Regina and awareness tactics are essential. “
It’s very unique to have participants sleeping outside in March – especially in Saskatchewan. It’s a great way to get people’s attention. It’s visually engaging,” said Laura Fahlman, vice president of Paul J. Hill School of Business. Fahlman said homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed and that she hopes this will make the Regina population more aware.
Fraser said there’s not enough being done to end Regina’s homeless problem. “Rental prices in Regina are an issue a lot of people are familiar with. It’s gone up a lot in the last 18 months or so. We haven’t really seen that improve,” he said.
“Homelessness is an issue often ignored,” agreed McKay. Shivering with cold, she said she’s glad she finally has an opportunity to make the public more aware. She isn’t sure what to expect for the rest of the week and looks forward to having the things she previously took for granted back.