Six students sleep on campus to raise money, awareness
// Leah Scheitel

“Everyone in Metro Vancouver knows that we have a homelessness issue, that we have a lot of people on the streets and that shelters are overcrowded … [but] there is this horrible stigma surrounding it,” says Teresa Grant, social justice coordinator for the Capilano Students’ Union.

Grant was one of the organizers for the 5 Days for the Homeless event, which started on campus on Mar. 12.

“It’s a national campaign, and it essentially involves students from universities sleeping outside to garner attention to the issues surrounding youth homelessness in the city,” Grant explains. “At Cap, we’re really hitting hard with different events throughout the week to highlight issues specific to Metro Vancouver, and even more specifically North Vancouver. We have six students who are sleeping outside for the five days, and they’re from all different programs.”

Dolly Reno is a film student and was one of the “homeless” volunteers for the event. She has personal reasons for participating in the campaign: “I think that the main reason is that when I was 16, I was homeless. I was in Montreal, and I was homeless for a couple of months. I just got out of a really intense relationship that got me there. At this point, it just seems so far away from that point to where I am now. Homelessness is still all around me even though it’s not me. It just struck a chord because it’s a really huge issue. I’m well off at this point, but I know that there [are] a lot of other people that could use help.”

Reno also took advantage of the opportunity by filming footage for a documentary about the experience. “[The documentary] is about the event itself and the process of the other five participants and what they go through, intertwined with what this event can do; what it does for the participants and their understanding of what homelessness is,” says Reno.

She plans to make a ten-minute promo of the film for the CSU, as well as a 30-minute documentary that she will send out to film festivals. For each day of the campaign, Grant focused attention on a different issue related to homelessness, such as mental health and addictions, First Nations homelessness, and youth homelessness.

Grant hopes to raise attention about the homelessness issues specifically in North Vancouver. “When I tell people [about homelessness], people say, ‘Well, it’s a great cause, but there are no homeless in the North Shore’. Actually, the statistics were just released for Metro Vancouver homeless numbers, and the North Shore is tied for third in terms of the worst population of homelessness. It’s clearly an issue here and no one knows much about it,” says Grant.

The last day of the event featured a forum with local politicians and community leaders, including Jane Thornthwaite, the MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour; and Richard Walton, the Mayor of the District of North Vancouver, as well as some representatives from local homeless shelters.

So far, the campaign has raised well over $3,000 dollars from sponsors, and more donations are expected to come in. However, despite the event now being over, Grant hopes that people will continue to donate to the cause. “There are lots of ways that people can donate. If it’s easier, people can go onto our website, 5days. ca.” All of the funds raised by the CSU are going to the North Shore Youth Housespace.

Grant is hopeful that the event has raised awareness and promoted conversations about the issues: “I’m really into visual demonstrations that are respectful, and that foster dialogue. This is a cool visual way to bring up conversation. It was also really important that we weren’t saying, ‘Oh, here are some privileged, primarily white students who are going to see what it is kind of like to be homeless for five days,” she says, referring to the fact that the supplementary events were put on to provide a deeper analysis of the issues.

Reno thinks that the event resonated with students, as many carry financial burdens while going to university. “I don’t think we have the total understanding of what it means to have nothing except for the clothing on your back, and sometimes not even a lot of that,” says Reno. “We’re not far off from that situation as students. I think most of us worry about where we’re going to sleep or what we’re going to eat almost everyday, or at least every month, because we can’t afford to pay for our own education, let alone our living.”

//Leah Scheitel, writer
//Photograph by Jason Jeon

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