Concordia’s annual Five Days for the Homeless campaign got started Sunday night with a little celebrity help from the Member of Parliament for Papineau, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau slept on the sidewalk outside of Concordia University with the group on Sunday night to help raise money for Dans La Rue, a Montreal charity that provides shelter and services to the homeless. Five students are sleeping outside for five nights, ending on March 19, with others joining them periodically throughout the week.
“I got involved awhile back when I met one of the organizers, Josh Redler, at an event,” Trudeau explained. “He started telling me about it and I told him right away I’d sleep outside for a night. Turns out, I think all he was looking for was a letter of support.”
On Sunday the weather wasn’t cooperating, with low temperatures and plenty of rain. Trudeau said he wasn’t daunted by it however. “I was sort of smiling. But my wife and mother-in-law, they said “you’re not still going, right? They’re going to call it off, right?'”
Still, others, like Concordia graduate Kristina Partsinevelos, weren’t happy . “I hate the rain. I’d prefer it be freezing cold. Our sleeping bags take forever to dry out.” Luckily for her and Trudeau, the weather finally cleared up around midnight.
Concordia’s campaign, organised by the John Molson School of Business, is one of many similar campaigns going on at schools across the country. Last year they managed to raise $32,000. This year’s goal is $35,000. The money itself isn’t everything, though.
“It’s an amazing experience. I did it last year and it was incredible. I’m really interested in some of the issues around homelessness,” said Thomas Prince, a Concordia anthropology student. “It’s an amazing way to interact with the homeless in a much different dynamic. Many come and talk to us – some like what we’re doing, others don’t.”
Students are still required to attend all classes. In Partsinevelos’ case, she’s still going to work, with the help of some understanding co-workers. “Everybody knows I’m going to be dirty at the office. I’m wearing the same t-shirt everyday.” For his part, Prince said he learned a lesson from last year’s campaign:
“This year I’m bringing extra pairs of socks. Last year I don’t think I changed them once over five days.”
But the fundraisers are quick to point out sleeping outdoors and being truly homeless are different things. “You can never really compare our life to theirs. A lot of people still ignore us, but many recognize us because they see we’re young, we’re students,” said Partsinevelos.
Trudeau also acknowledged this. “This isn’t any sort of solution. I don’t pretend that me spending a night here in the rain is going to teach me any of the difficulties of being homeless. To deal with the issue, you have to look at families, you have to look at schools and communities, and social networks so that people don’t end up on a path of addiction that leads to isolation and mental illnesses, that leads to some people actually choosing homelessness.”
Despite the serious nature of the campaign, they weren’t above a little levity. The joke circulating amongst the students was that they would get custom made t-shirts that read “I slept with Justin Trudeau.” Trudeau, considered a heartthrob amongst Canadian politicians, played along. “I don’t think you’d have to have that custom made. You can probably already buy that at the local corner store,” he joked.