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Volunteers to be homeless for one night to support youth at risk

by Wayne Radford March 11, 2014
Volunteers to be homeless for one night to support youth at risk

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Concordia supports 5 days for the homeless, alongside 26 Canadian universities

Thousands of Canadian youth under the age of 25 call the cold and hostile streets their home each and every night. Josh Redler wants you to know what that feels like, literally, at Concordia’s doorstep. From March 9 to 14, 26 Canadian universities, including Concordia, will be participating in the 5 Days For the Homeless campaign.

Organized annually by Redler and a growing team of volunteers since 2008, 5 Days for the Homeless supports organizations and social groups that aid youth at risk. The event is a simultaneous campaign of visibility, public awareness and fundraising support for local organizations that directly fight the challenge of homelessness in their communities.

Ask Redler why he wants you to do this, and he will explain with patience and compassion that our social understanding of the problem of homelessness needs to change, to be challenged, and to be addressed as a growing social concern. In 2007, while Redler was completing his bachelor’s degree in commerce at John Molson School of Business, he started an overnight effort on campus with a few fellow students. That effort has since developed into the annual 5 Days For the Homeless campaign.

From British Columbia to Nova Scotia, this national campaign has been challenging assumptions, sharing experiences, and opening discussions of understanding on what it means to be homeless in Canada; by offering students the opportunity to engage directly in the harsh environment of sleeping on the street, and by sharing experience and understanding with the homeless in their own communities.

This is the mission behind 5Days.ca — to establish understanding of the problem, and to provide a national focus and fundraising effort for those who work in the field of outreach and support for the homeless.

The need is essential. Homelessness is on the rise. Globally, since 2008, with the ongoing recession, economic fallout, and stagnation that continues to plague North America, more and more individuals are falling short economically. Government funding in Canada, by best estimates, only accounts for about five per cent of the operating budgets for outreach services in this area of community service.

The underlying cause of homelessness is not necessarily what one might expect. There are some assumed circumstances: people fleeing domestic abuse, falling into social isolation, or the traps of substance abuse or mental illness. While these situations can compound the problem of homelessness, it often starts with social isolation or the inability for an individual to meet their economic or social responsibilities through crisis or sickness.

Once out of a fixed environment, it becomes increasingly difficult to contact them, or to establish a routine or access government or social services that may be of assistance. When combined with the limitation of accessibility to services with the further consequences of homelessness — poor nutrition, poor sleep, and compounding health concerns — the situation rapidly deteriorates into a self-defeating spiral.

“Homeless people are just people in different circumstances,” Redler suggests. “It is helpful for us to see homelessness in the community for what it is, a circumstance, and not the end destiny for an individual. The key, is in establishing compassionate understanding for the person in their circumstances.”

“By establishing rapport, and relationships with individuals, they can begin to depend on help, and trust that there is a way out of their present situation, but it can take time. It is a process, not easily solved overnight. If we start by understanding the problem, and supporting organizations that actively outreach to the homeless, we can help solve this problem one person at a time.”

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