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“Homeless” kids

Business students experience a slice of homelessness to raise funds for homeless youth outreach

by Matt Casey with files from Andy Crosby


For five days in March, four students in the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University braved the elements as part of the fundraiser Five Days for the Homeless, with the goal of raising $10,000 for Operation Come Home and Rideau Street Youth Enterprises. Both organizations work to help homeless youth through a variety of age-dependent services.

The students camped outside the Unicentre from Sunday night to Friday afternoon, panhandling to raise money and collect food. As part of the challenge, they had to rely on the charity of other students to keep themselves fed.
By the time they packed up and headed home for a long-awaited shower, the group had raised just over $7,000 – somewhat short of their fundraising goal.

Lauren Gouchie was still proud, and said the amount they had raised was “a lot for five days of just sitting here. I think we’re all really proud of that accomplishment.... I’m very happy and I’m very proud of us.”

Mark Featherstonhaugh, one of the other team members, told the CBC on the first day of the event that passersby had ignored the group’s efforts to a surprising degree.

Gouchie agreed that they had been somewhat disappointed by the number of people who ignored them but, considering they were confronting the same people each day, was “surprised by the strong support.”

But even the best intentions sometimes encounter opposition. Some have said that the Five Days for the Homeless campaign is a poor substitute for the challenges faced by actual homeless youth. The students are without shelter only temporarily, and campus security would sooner protect them than throw them out.

“We acknowledge what we’re doing. We’ve had friends who just dropped off food. We have the luxury of having a sleeping bag and staying on campus. The idea is to simulate it in a safe environment and start discussion flowing,” Gouchie said.

Andrew Nellis, spokesperson for the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union, expressed support for the students, but also cautioned against comparing their experiences to the actual conditions faced by homeless youth in the city.

“I think it is important that people understand that what you get from an experience like this is a very, very, very tiny part of the overall experience that a real homeless person experiences, particularly a homeless youth. At the end of the five days they [the students] get to go home. The experience is very different when you are trapped on the street,” he said.

“One thing that you’ll notice is that [when you are homeless] you become invisible to everyone except the police and security and to them you become super visible. I don’t think anyone was threatening them [the students] with violence during those five days.  The security on campus may have had a very different reaction to them if they had actually been homeless.”

Street youth in Ottawa are especially prone to experiencing harassment, violence, and arrest at the hands of the police, a reality Nellis attributes to the Business Improvement Areas (BIAs).

“The BIAs are the ones who pressure police to get rid of panhandlers. We know this from talking to the police ourselves. The police are given instructions to deal with any complaints from business, regardless of whether any law has been broken,” he said.

A piece missing from the Five Days for the Homeless campaign is how youth end up in the street in the first place.

Nellis explained that the Homelessness Task Force, formed in the aftermath of the Homeless Action Camp that occupied the lawn of City Hall in 2004, issued a report that investigated this question.

“We went into the community and interviewed around 100 homeless people and asked them a set of questions about their experiences and how they ended up on the street and so on. [We found] that more than 70 per cent of the people that we talked to come from Children’s Aid [Society] or group homes,” he explained.

“What that tells us is that homelessness is very strongly connected to a lack of networks. If you come from Children’s Aid [Society] or a group home, you don’t have that social network and the first time you end up in crisis you’re on the street. And once you’re on the street, it is very, very difficult to get off.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of The Leveller.


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Topics: Poverty
723 words

Comments

This shit is offensive every

This shit is offensive every single time it happens on every campus in Canada. Try getting kicked awake by the cops if you want to give people the picture.

This just gives some college kids an ease of guilt and more money in the pockets of "social workers" who half the time are pieces of shit themselves.

The experience is far from similar and never amounts to building bridges or class solidarity.

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