Capilano students join national hunger strike campaign

Capilano students are taking a stand on the Canadian homelessness crisis – and simultaneously committing themselves to surviving solely on juice for an entire week.

Through the Capilano Student Union (CSU) Social Justice Committee (SJC), students took a pledge from November 15-22 to fast for a week as part of the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike Relay, a campaign that began in Vancouver on December 29, 2008.

Every week, new volunteers take on the symbolic Wooden Spoon and then begin a juice fast for seven days. Hunger strikes traditionally have been done with Indian and Irish roots, as a way to reflect outrage, Johal says.

The relay will continue until June 2010, at which point people will travel on a train over to Ottawa to deliver the petition to the federal government, in commemoration of the On-to-Ottawa Trek.

“It is an opportunity to have these conversations about the need for social housing,” says Am Johal, founder of the campaign and current Chair of the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Stirke Relay Advisory Committee.

The purpose of the campaign is to push for the re-establishment of a national housing program in Canada, based on the One Percent Solution. This concept, launched in 1998, demands that provincial, territorial, and municipal governments re-commit to housing programs by re-establishing housing spending. “In the mid-90s, governments spent about one percent of their budgets on housing,” says the Toronto Disaster Relive Committee on their website. “Since then, governments have made substantial housing cuts.” 

At present, Canada is the only Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country without a national housing program, says Johal.

At present, a wide range of volunteers have participated in the campaign, including activists, university professors, photojournalists, and moms and dads. Capilano’s SJC is the latest addition to the growing list of participants.

“Our committee sees this as an opportunity to reach people who are otherwise not open to our opinions on the homeless situation in our city,” says Richard McCrae, chair of the Social Justice Committee. “When people see that you are making a sacrifice for what you believe in, they will immediately become more receptive. “

Participants, too, feel that it is a worthwhile cause.

“It’s for a good cause and I have people supporting me,” says Teresa Grant, a first-year Global Stewardship student. “I wanted to prove to myself that I’m willing to commit to something that’s more than just verbal action. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

The hardest part, she says, is not the hunger but the “non-satisfaction of everything you drink.”

“It’s meant to be done in solidarity with people who are homeless,” says Johal, to give us “some sense of what it’s like.”

Grant also says that it’s hard to watch other people eat, “especially when [she] came home to this steaming, crispy garlic bread sitting on [her] stove.”

Students participating in the campaign wore striking black t-shirts that read, “DO NOT FEED THE STUDENT” as a means to promote their cause.

The campaign at Capilano, interestingly, got mixed reviews.

Carolyn Ramer, a student at Cap, noted that, “It didn’t really make me care. I still feel the same way about homelessness as I did before. It didn’t really change my cognitive map.”

Meegan Konias, another student, says, “I’m inspired by the people who were able to sacrifice food for a week for their cause. I think that’s pretty dedicated.”

“It feels trivial to give up food for a week when we know that’ll be able to eat this coming Sunday – especially when so much good can come of it,” says McCrae.

“We feel like this [the campaign] gives us a great opportunity to dispel some myths and stereotypes of the homeless, “ says McCrae.

Grant has one wish for the success of the campaign: “I hope that Capailano students will become aware of the issue and realize that we are very serious about it.”

For more information on the campaign for a National Housing Program, visit www.2010homelessness.ca/joinus.

// Samantha Thompson

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com