Five days for the homeless

(Edmonton) University of Alberta business dean Joseph Doucet was glad to huddle into his green sleeping bag March 15, taking his place in a row of closely-packed bodies trying to keep warm against the -1C nip of an Alberta spring night.

But he couldn’t promise his students he’d share in their accumulated grubbiness.

“I told them I’d happily spend the time with them at night, but that my professional activities didn’t allow me to go from my sleeping bag to my meetings,” he chuckled. “This morning I went home, showered and changed.”

Doucet joined his students for the last of their Five Days for the Homeless Campaign, an annual fundraiser started by U of A business students in 2005.

The campaign, to raise awareness about homelessness, has willing undergraduates living and sleeping on the street to raise money each year for the Edmonton Youth Emergency Shelter, and provides a way to support at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 18.

The faint slur of a cough could just be heard clouding Kristiann McCool’s throat as she talked about her experiences living and sleeping on the gritty sidewalk outside of the University of Alberta School of Business all this week.

“All of us are trying to fight off colds,” admitted McCool, a first-year business student and co-chair of this year’s campaign. “Your immune system begins to wear out from how cold it is, and the healthy eating is not really there.” But despite the seeping exhaustion of five long days�and nights� without proper food, any shelter, hot showers or soft beds, McCool and the other seven hardy business students taking part are warmed by the fact that they are going to reach their fundraising goal of $25,000.

“I strongly believe we will reach that goal. Today is the last day, but the whole campus will band together.”

The experience of sleeping on concrete and cardboard and hoping for handouts of food from passersby�all while attending regular classes, doing homework and going without their electronic gadgets�was an eye-opener for the group, physically and emotionally, said McCool.

“It’s been rough, it really is exhausting, struggling to keep up with daily demands, like doing homework at night when it is freezing cold, so it makes us realize how difficult the lives of the homeless are, from the small glimpse we’ve gotten, and how much we need places like the Youth Emergency Shelter.”

For his part, Doucet didn’t find his night out too tough aside from a fitful sleep, “but I would say the concrete surface was hard on my old body.”

And though it isn’t every day a dean finds himself cheek-to-jowl with his students, he was proud to support them.

“I’ve gotten to know this group a bit throughout this week, and spending the night supporting them, that’s a little special. Efforts like theirs demonstrate that students in general and those (enrolled) in business do think about more than themselves, their grades or their careers. They are thinking more broadly and are raising money for a very worthwhile cause,” Doucet said.
“They show some of the leadership skills that will be of value to them and to broader society when they graduate.”

The benefits of her experience as a temporarily homeless person far outweighed any discomforts, McCool added.

“This enables us, as business students, to potentially have an impact in the future corporate world and make a difference that way.”