On the corner of De Maisonneuve and Guy, on the downtown campus of Concordia, a group of students, professors and alumni wearing bright orange t-shirts lay in their sleeping bags on dozens of recycled egg cartons last night. It was their second of five nights living on the streets of Montreal, a challenge they’ve undertaken to raise money for homeless youth through charity Dans la Rue.
“I have a better understanding of the homeless life in Montreal,” said Josh Redler, Concordia grad and coordinator of “Five days for the Homeless,” of his participation in the event for past four years.
Inspired by a similar event organized by business students at the University of Alberta in 2005, a friend of Redler’s asked him if he was interested in starting the fundraiser at Concordia, which he was. However, Redler thought the event should include students in all the departments of the university and not just the business department. He also felt that the campaign does not only help in raising funds, but is making people understand the hardships of living without a home.
“The hardest thing is when people walk by and don’t look at you,” he said, adding that “you feel rejected by people in your community. “
Over the next few days the orange-clad participants in the fourth edition of “Five Days for the Homeless” at Concordia will be seen walking around the downtown campus, collecting change from passersby with water bottles and buckets.
And while at the end of the night they gather together on the street corner and set up camp, the participants still try keep up with their courses and attend class.
Tonight a few guest sleepers will also reportedly join the group, including 74-year-old JMSB professor Mahesh SharmaÂ and CTV Montreal’s Christine Long.
Despite all the local media attention, Redler’s most memorable moment was when a homeless man named John joined them for the last three days of their campaign in 2009. They gave John a sleeping bag, and in turn, John shared his life story and stayed with the group.Â To this day, he keeps in touch with Josh and joins him in the fundraising events. Now John is looking into getting low-income housing.
Kristina Partsinevelos, another longtime participant, said she feels the homeless are misunderstood – they are not all alcoholics or drug users, but could be homeless because they lost their job, for example.Â One thing that she learned from her experience is that once a person becomes homeless, it is very difficult to get out of that cycle.
“Once someone is on the street, they have no one to turn too,” she said.
Partsinevelos and the other Concordia participants have set a goal of raising $35,000, a mark they surpassed last year. McGill University, Ã‰cole des Hautes Ã‰tudes Commerciales and UniversitÃ© du QuÃ©bec Ã MontrÃ©al are all participating in the event as well this week.
“Five Days for the Homeless” ends March 18.