Five Days for the Homeless officially ended last Friday and was hailed as a success: they collected more than double their target for donations. However, it wasn’t just the achievement that the three business students came away with – it was the experience.
“I really felt ostracized by a lot of people,” said CASA’s VP Human Resources, Josh Redler, commenting on people’s reaction when they saw him appealing for donations on the corner of Guy Street and Boulevard de Maisonneuve.
Brian Chungwing added, “People pretend like you’re not there. It really hurts to a certain degree.”
Both students think it’s because people do not consider the homeless their equals.
“[They should] know that it’s a person like you. Most likely this person has had a life before and, then something happened. It could happen to you,” explained Redler.
It wasn’t easy to mentally prepare for the stint, said Gold in an interview on the first day. He reiterated later on in the week how tough it could be on the mind, “I have to go inside sometimes, if not I’ll go insane.”
Another aspect of being homeless was also revealed to Chungwing – loneliness.
“I could clearly understand why homeless people have dogs with them.” Dogs become their sole friends as they provide non-judgmental company, he explained.
He realized this when a John Molson School of Business (JMSB) professor brought two dogs to keep the boys company.
“Guest sleepers” were there to support the guys all through the week, notably 71-year-old JMSB professor Mahesh Sharma.
Enthusiastic from the very beginning when the event was first announced, Redler recounted how Sharma was inquiring about what clothes to wear and whether his pants, advertised to withstand – 40-degree Celsius temperatures, would be enough against the frigid nights.
On the last night, volunteers from Montreal’s outreach program for street youths, Dans la Rue, gave them something to remember by paying them a visit and dropping off some hot meals. The volunteers of the renowned homeless shelter and social support group also invited the three to ride along in their van as they made their rounds, giving out hot meals and interacting with people on the streets.
“It was probably the most uplifting experience we had here,” said Redler of his time with the volunteers. “They don’t stop. The bus keeps on rolling and rolling,” he added.
Having been on the other end, Redler said he now realizes how important it is to give attention to the less fortunate because “your time makes them feel special and makes them feel like they’re human beings,” he said.
Admitting that he rarely gives out money to people begging on the street, Chungwing, like Redler, said the experience changed him. He said he will put aside some time for volunteering from now on.
Despite all the challenges and the hardship, all three of them said they would do it again next year in the second edition of Five Days for the Homeless at Concordia.
This year, the participants surpassed their original target of $15,000 in donations and, after doubling their target, surpassed it again at $37,000, a number that was still growing by Saturday.
For next year, Redler said, he would like to see more affluent people getting involved because they are the ones who can create real change.