Homeless on the Range

Thursday, March 18, 2010

  • Harsimranjeet Singh and Suba Naganathan solicit donations from students headed to class as part of 5 Days for the Homeless. (Gre

    Harsimranjeet Singh and Suba Naganathan solicit donations from students headed to class as part of 5 Days for the Homeless. (Gre

  • A student offers some spare change. (Greg Beneteau)

    A student offers some spare change. (Greg Beneteau)

  • Ally Rogin, Harsimranjeet Singh and Suba Naganathan snuggle for warmth. (Greg Beneteau)

    Ally Rogin, Harsimranjeet Singh and Suba Naganathan snuggle for warmth. (Greg Beneteau)

Written by Greg Beneteau

Thursday, March 18th -1:00 am: A group of students huddles together on the front porch of Raithby House. The warm weather earlier in the day is a distant memory, but at least they have their sleeping bags to guard against the biting cold.

It’s the last place you’d expect to find an executive with the College of Management and Economics Student Association. The irony of having aspiring bankers and business leaders sleeping outside isn’t lost on Suba Naganathan, CMESA’s VP of Marketing.

“I feel like I’ve led a very comfortable life, in way,” says Naganatha, a 5th year marketing management coop major. “This is a good way to push my limits while raising awareness for a good cause.”

Since Sunday night Naganathan, along with students Ally Rogin, Harsimranjeet Singh and Jessica Brandon-Jepphave have braved the elements as part of 5 Days for the Homeless (5D4TH) a national awareness campaign and fundraiser for anti-poverty initiatives.

As part of the event, participants at 15 schools across Canada are living outdoors on their campuses for a week, collecting funds for local charities and experiencing what life is like for Canada’s homeless population.

Rogin, a 5th year marketing management coop student who is also CMESA’s VP External, says the campus community has donated plenty of food to eat, alleviating one major concern.

Still, she says it’s not easy living outside without any basic amenities – including a washroom.

“I miss brushing my teeth,” admits Rogin. “And I just can’t wait to shower again.”

All proceeds from U of G fundraiser benefit Wyndham House, a charitable support organization for at-risk youth. The Guelph groups, organized by CMESA, aims to raise $7,500 by Friday through on-site donations and contributions on the 5D4TH website.

Last year's Guelph students raised over $10,000, with three “incredibly generous” donors collectively giving $8,000, Naganathan said.

He estimated  $1,700 has been raised so far this year.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go, but we’re hoping some more generous people will come forward,” he says.

In order to give the situation a greater sense of reality, the “homeless” students must follow some very specific rules. They can’t carry money or belongings of any kind save for a sleeping bag, pillow and the clothes on their backs. They can only eat donated food, and they must sleep outside at night and attend classes during the day – a nod to the working poor, claims first year Physical Science student Harsimranjeet Singh.

“I think it would be unrealistic to say that homeless people don’t have to go to class or juggle other responsibilities,” Singh explains.

Participants are also required to blog about their experiences using public-access computers. So far the Guelph crew has written about fatigue, cold, loneliness and various other pains of homeless living.

On a rainy Monday night, Naganathan realized the sleeping bag he purchased at Value Village for $7 was made for 12-year-old’s body, leaving half his body exposed

“It was a night full of restlessness,” he wrote later. “I often woke, suddenly, in the middle of the night with cold sweats. I could feel myself shivering, closing my eyes tight and wishing to fall asleep.”

There have also been stories of generosity and kindness. Naganathan was given a high-quality sleeping bag from a friend who read his blog. Every morning this week, a worker from Hospitality Services has stopped by to chat and drop off coffee and oranges.

The team also adopted a grey tabby cat that lives underneath the porch at Raithby.

“People stop by and feed him as well so he doesn’t go hungry,” Rogin blogged. “We brainstormed to find a name for this little guy and decided to name him Wyndham, at least for this week.”

“Hopefully he will be able to find a home soon.”

If Wyndham (the cat and the shelter) have taught them anything, Naganathan says, it’s how fortunate they are that the ordeal is only temporary.

“The bottom line is knowing it’s going to end after five days, but real homeless people don’t have such a guarantee.”

To learn about 5 Days for the Homeless in Guelph or to donate, visit www.guelph.5days.ca

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