Brock students participate in 5 Days for the Homeless

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Brock students participate in 5 Days for the Homeless

Published on March 15 2010

The following article apeared in the St. Catharines Standard on March 13, 2010

No food, no beds, no Facebook


For a small group of students at Brock University, homelessness isn't just an abstract concept. For five days next week, it will become their reality.

Armed with sleeping bags and pillows, the students will abandon the comforts of home to sleep outdoors, endure whatever weather Mother Nature has in store, and rely on handouts for food and drinks -- all the while without their cellphones, iPods or access to Facebook.

Their reason? The Five Days for the Homeless initiative.

Originally launched at the University of Alberta in 2005, the campaign promotes awareness about homelessness while collecting funds for charity. During the past five years, however, its scope has branched out to include 21 post-secondary institutions across the country. Brock University became involved in 2008,

The rules are simple: For five days, the students will not be able to return to their homes; they must stay on campus. They cannot bring food or drinks; they may only rely on donations. They cannot access showers or facilities, except for the washrooms when campus buildings remain open. And personal communication devices are off-limits, except to blog about the experience on the campaign's website.

There's one thing they can do -- must do, in fact -- and that is attend all of their classes.

Returning participant Steve Bonomo, who is also this year's organizer at Brock, said he knows the sacrifices all too well.

He said he remembers stuffing newspapers in his jacket for extra padding during bone-chilling overnight temperatures. But for him, the social and psychological repercussions were, by far, the most challenging.

"I remember seeing my roommate walking down the path. I saw him and he saw me, but then he turned the other way," Bonomo said.

"People treat you differently. Even your friends treat you differently. But it's interesting to see how homeless people get treated."

First-time participants Abe Warraich and Charles Munro said that five days of sleeping outdoors and being without their cellphones will likely be most difficult for them. But they were drawn in by the prospect of experiencing homelessness for themselves.

"For me, it is about pushing my personal limits," Munro said.

"I'm pretty stoked. How many times in life will I be homeless for a week?" Warraich said.

Six Brock students will be participating for the full five days, while three others will be joining in for at least part of the experience.

Donations, which will be directed to Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, can be made to the participants directly during the event, at a booth set up at the school or on the campaign's website. The goal is at least $2,000.

According to Jeff Martini, director of communications for Five Days for the Homeless, the entire campaign has raised $335,000 to date and has donated funds to charities across Canada.

Statistics reveal that charities providing services to help the homeless still have their work cut out for them. Last year's Raising the Roof report -- referenced by the Five Days for the Homeless literature -- stated that the homeless population in Canada was 150,000, including 65,000 youths.

And it's not just a big-city problem.

According to A.J. Heafey, street outreach program co-ordinator for Niagara Homelessness Initiative, the number of people at risk for homelessness in the region has increased during the past couple of years with the downturn in the economy.

"People who had been working and have been laid off are turning to employment insurance, going on social assistance, and can't sustain their budgets," he said.

In addition to Bonomo, Munro and Warraich, other students participating in Brock's Five Days for the Homeless event include Eric Hubacheck, Nick Ward and Dave Poirier. The event kicks off at 5 p.m., Sunday and runs until 5 p.m., Friday. For more information, visit