Students brave the chill for the Youth Emergency Shelter

(Edmonton) Watching the forecasts is a spring obsession for Edmontonians, but it’s going to be a bit more pressing for seven University of Alberta students next week.

The seven students from the university’s Alberta School of Business and one from Grant MacEwan University will spend five nights braving the elements to raise cash and awareness for the Youth Emergency Shelter Society (YESS).

“It’s supposed to warm up a little bit next week, but we’re expecting rain on Monday,” said Kimberley Menard, chair of this year’s event. “If we get wet we’re not going to dry off for the next week. We’re a little nervous about the rain, but I guess it’s better than -30C and snow.”

Five Days for the Homeless is a charity campaign founded in 2005 by students from the U of A’s school of business and has grown into a nation-wide movement. It’s a five-day campaign— running from March 13-18—in which a group of students live “homeless” on campus.” This year they’re joined by 20 other post-secondary schools across the country.

“Our goal for the 2011Edmonton campaign is to raise $25,000 for YESS,” said Menard.

During the five-day campaign, students from across the country will be making personal sacrifices to meet their goals. They will forgo their comforts and live outside on campus for full duration of the campaign. They will all remain on campus for the entire five days, and have no income—100 per cent of all money donated will go directly to their charity of choice. They’re only allowed to eat food that’s been donated, and any non-perishable food items will also go to charity.

“We’re allowed to bring a pillow and a sleeping bag and the clothes we’re wearing. We can’t change, we can’t shower,” said Menard. “We can just use the washrooms, the regular washrooms, during regular hours.”

Other than using their university email for school work and posting a daily blog about their experiences, the students aren’t allowed any personal communication—no cell phones, no Facebook. At the same time, they’re not allowed to fade into the background on campus.

“Class is mandatory—any of our regular extracurricular duties, class work and volunteer work are still mandatory,” said Menard. “And we’ll be going into some of the larger classrooms.”

Students will also visit some of the larger classrooms and giving presentations about Five Days for the Homeless and collecting donations for YESS.

“We want our focus to be on youth homelessness,” said Menard, who will be joining fellow participants tonight in a tour of the Youth Emergency Shelter. “It’s never a child’s fault that they’re in a bad situation, but they’re the ones whose lives we can change. We’ve heard some amazing stories about the success that’s possible when you just give them a chance. Some of them are coming from situations that we can’t even imagine and yet they can completely turn their lives around.”

Five Days for the Homeless kicks off Sunday at 5 p.m. with Edmonton’s mayor, Stephen Mandel. Donations can be made at www.ualberta.5days.ca or by visiting the U of A group’s base of operations on the second floor of the business school during regular school hours.