Home CommentaryOpinions Students shouldn’t be the only ones helping the needy

Students shouldn’t be the only ones helping the needy

By The Concordian March 22, 2011

Concordia students pretend to be homeless to help the homeless. Photo by David Vilder.

A number of students camping outside the Hall Building made the street their home last week, raising money for Dans la Rue, an organization which provides assistance to Montreal’s homeless youth. While the nationwide Five Days for the Homeless initiative was surely for a good cause, and those who participated should be commended for their dedication and perseverance, the sight of a bunch of university students essentially pretending to be homeless may have offended some. Simulating being homeless trivializes homelessness and might be considered to be in extremely poor taste. While this was surely not the intention of the organizers or participants associated with the event, that result was unavoidable.

Those who took part in the Five Days for the Homeless campaign did not spend five days outside in late winter and run the  risk of offending the sensibilities of many Concordia students for no reason. Dans la Rue is in dire need of money to fund the excellent and very necessary work they do with Montreal’s homeless youth. This is in part due to the fact that they rely on individual donations for 94 per cent of their annual operating budget, with various government bodies contributing only the remaining six per cent.

The fact that Dans la Rue receives so little money from any level of government is to a large extent a result of that organization’s policies. According to Sue Medleg, the organization’s co-ordinator of development, Dans la Rue sees government funding as often inconsistent, and prefers to rely on individual donations. While this is understandable, the fact remains that government funding, however inconsistent, has the capacity to involve amounts of money that simply cannot be matched by counting on individual donations, and can therefore make a much more significant impact on homelessness.

Photo by David Vilder

It is clear that no level of government active in Montreal is doing enough to provide relief to the homeless, or to provide funding to those organizations that do. Considering it is the duty of the municipal, provincial, and federal governments to provide assistance and essential services to Canadians under their jurisdictions, this represents a major failure of governance. If those dedicated students who were involved in the Five Days for the Homeless campaign must pretend to be homeless next year, perhaps they should do so in front of City Hall, the National Assembly building, and Parliament Hill instead of at Concordia. In doing so, they could petition those in Canada who have both the responsibility and capability to consistently provide the significant amount of funds that are required to support groups such as Dans la Rue to the extent that their excellent and essential work both requires and deserves.

Improving the situation of the homeless is not the responsibility of private citizens, or even of groups such as Dans la Rue, but of the municipal, provincial, and federal governments.