They gathered on the corner of Mackay and De Maisonneuve, their bright orange T-shirts standing out against the dark exterior of the Hall building. They hollered and yelled, encouraging passersby to give generously: “Spare some change for Dans la rue! Help the homeless!”
The 5 Days for the Homeless event kicked off on March 11 and Concordia University is one of 24 schools across the country taking part in the campaign to create awareness and raise donations for the homeless.
For five consecutive nights, participants such as Pepe Garcia will be sleeping outside ― foregoing the little things in life such as showers, cell phones and clean clothes — to get an important message across.
“I did it last year,” he said of the event. “I wanted to do something charitable during my last year at university, and I was amazed by the experience, so I decided to come back.”
In 2011, Concordia raised 66 per cent, $39,000, out of the total from all Montreal schools involved. This year, organizer Josh Redler has set his sights even higher.
“Our goal is $40,000,” he said. “Every year we’ve been getting bigger and bigger, more interest, more involvement, and I hope we get the same type of publicity and cooperation as last year.”
As a veteran of the event ― it’s his fifth year ― Redler has only had positive experiences so far. He often receives feedback from the homeless, too.
“At first they look at you and they wonder why we’re there,” he said. “When we explain what we’re doing they’re very supportive. We’ve actually had a lot of them come and help us raise money.”
Ex-NHL player Georges Laraque, whose native Haiti has experienced homelessness on a country-wide scale, participated last year and has decided to come back. He was initially invited via Twitter by 5 Days for the Homeless’ managing director Victor Esposito. After boarding an STM bus to solicit donations from passengers, Laraque spoke about the importance of raising awareness for the homeless.
“Often people have negative stereotypes of homeless people and we need to prevent that,” he said. “Groups are participating across the country and I think it’s important to show [the homeless] we care.”
He stressed the importance of being pro-active, and going the extra mile to raise awareness.
“It’s one thing to say you support something, but it’s important to act,” he said. “When you stop people on the street and ask them to donate, that’s what proves that you really care about something.”
The number of participants changes on a nightly basis, and they run into several problems when it actually comes time to sleep.
“One of the things you don’t realize is how bright the city is outside at night,” Garcia said. “You can’t turn any lights off so it’s really uncomfortable.” Redler mentioned the noise, but added that after a few nights, exhaustion kicks in and it’s much easier to fall asleep.
Participating universities donate their proceeds to non-profit organizations, and all four Montreal universities will be forwarding their donations to Dans la rue, which provides essential services to the homeless across the city.
The Dans la rue van will be going around on Tuesday, March 13 to visit each of the schools. The van gives out hot dogs and hot drinks five nights a week in the downtown core.