5 Days for the Homeless 2009 in Edmonton

I think homelessness is a very important issue, and like many others I’d love to see it come to an end. It’s crazy that there are more than 3000 people without a permanent place to sleep in Edmonton. Fortunately, the issue has received a lot of attention lately. On January 29th, the Edmonton Committee to End Homelessness released its 10-year plan (which called for nearly $1 billion in funding). On February 4th, City Council unanimously endorsed the plan and established the Edmonton Homeless Commission (pdf). Yesterday, the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness released its own 10-year plan to end homelessness in Alberta, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

It doesn’t take a report and billions of dollars to make a difference, however. That’s why I was particularly interested to chat with Tim Hankinson, a business student at the University of Alberta spearheading this year’s 5 Days for the Homeless event. Here’s their mission:

“To raise awareness of the issue of homelessness, monetary donations for local charities around the country, and help change the image of business students.”

The concept behind the campaign is simple. Participants are homeless for five days (March 15th to 20th). They receive only food and drinks received through direct donations, have only a pillow and a sleeping bag (plus a cell phone for emergencies/media, and a camera to document the experience), have no access to showers, and must sleep outside.

Five Days started in 2005 at the University of Alberta’s School of Business. After a very successful first year, the event began to grow. There are now 16 schools participating across the country!

Tim explained to me that money is raised through donations on the website, not pledges. The donations in each city go toward a local charity. Here in Edmonton, all money raised will be donated to the Youth Emergency Shelter Society. The goal for this year is to raise $30,000 locally, and over $100,000 nationally.

Equally important is raising awareness. Tim said the biggest impact the campaign has is on making their fellow students and others in the community aware of the problem. To that end, they’ve made an effort this year to make use of social media to spread the word. Like most of the participating cities, Edmonton has a Facebook group and a Twitter account. Participants have also been making use of the #5days hashtag.

The total amount raised for Edmonton is currently $3349, while the national total sits at $51,120.12. National Bank Financial is matching student donations up to a maximum of $10,000. Other local sponsors include Time Line Construction and Xerox, both of which will be spending some time outside with the participants. I’m planning to do so also – you can see their schedule here.

I think 5 Days is a fantastic initiative. It’s a great example of how a handful of people can make a big difference. Well done to all participants and supporters!