5 days for the homeless kicks off at Concordia, McGill universities

What if tonight, instead of going home to a warm bed, you decided to sleep on the street? That's what a group of students and others from Concordia and McGill are doing for five nights this week.

Dans la Rue, Chez Doris will benefit from money raised by students, others sleeping in street for 5 nights

Josh Redler and Eric Waldvogel (back row) and Magalie Han (front row, left), Elias Lolei and Emilie Leduc camp outside Concordia University's downtown campus. collecting funds for Chez Doris and Dans la Rue in this year's 5 days for the homeless campaign. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

What if tonight, instead of going home to a warm bed, you decided to sleep on the street?

That's what a group of young people at Concordia and McGill universities are doing this week.

Students and community members are participating in the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign.

They're sleeping outside for five nights to raise money for local shelters and services, with this year's donations going to Dans La Rue and Chez Doris.
Josh Redler, far right, started Montreal's 5 days for the homeless campaign in 2008. It's grown since then, with participants including Mayor Denis Coderre (2nd from right) and former Hab Georges Laraque (2nd from left.) (submitted by Josh Redler)

The national campaign started at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 2005.

It came to Montreal in 2008, when Josh Redler, a Concordia student at the time, got some friends together and decided to launch a local edition of the campaign.

"The first year was amazing, because there were three of us with a few guest sleepers here and there, and the community came out in full support of it," Redler recalled.

"People stopped us at 7 a.m. honking their horns, waking us up going, 'I got 20 bucks for you,' hanging out the window so you'd have to run out and grab it from them. That year we raised $42,000, which was way beyond what we expected."

'Dependent on the kindness of others'

The Montreal effort has grown since then. The small group has had some high-profile visitors over the years, including Georges Laraque, Mayor Denis Coderre and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The campaign aims to mimic the real-life experience of homeless people, as participants are totally reliant on donations.

"The reality of being homeless is you that you have maybe one bag, or all your belongings are with you," says Marina Boulos-Winton, executive director of Chez Doris.

"You are dependent on the kindness of others to get clean, to brush your teeth, to go to the bathroom, to have a shower, because you essentially have nothing." 

The base of operations for the Concordia campaign is on the corner of De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Mackay Street. 

Concordia student Stephanie Blanchette, who is participating in the campaign for her third year, described the experience as one of personal growth.

"[I do it] to remind myself that this could be me and that people that are in the street are people just like us that have just had a bad situation, and something's happened to them," she said. 

The campaign is open to anyone who wants to join, including alumni, staff, faculty and members of the administration.

'Being ignored' the hardest part

Concordia's dean of students, Andrew Woodall, slept outside with the group Monday night.

Woodall said aside from the physical discomfort of actually sleeping on the ground, one of the hardest parts is actually feeling alienated from people that you see every day.

"Being ignored was the hardest part for me," he said. "I'd stand at the [Guy Metro] building with people I work with all the time, who were uncomfortable seeing someone asking for money. And then they saw me and they'd change."

The funds raised by participants in 5 days for the homeless this year will go to Dans la Rue and Chez Doris. (Emily Leduc)

The 5 days for the homeless campaign is taking place at Concordia and McGill until Friday, March 18. 


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