5 Days for the Homeless is just camping

Despite good intentions, 5 Days for the Homeless doesn’t seem to understand that being homeless is more than just going camping.

Over the past week, you might have seen participants of 5 Days for the Homeless — an “educational” campaign that was launched at the University of Alberta in 2005 and has since spread to 26 business faculties across the country — sitting in front of their tent in Business Quad. Eight of their executive members have committed to remaining on campus for five days, sleeping outdoors and only consuming food or drinks given through direct donations in order to raise money and awareness for Edmonton’s Youth Empowerment Support Services.

Of all the resume boosters offered at the U of A, 5 Days for the Homeless is by far one of the most demanding. There are dozens of other social justice-related groups on campus that would look just as good on a CV and would require far less effort than what these participants have dedicated themselves to. Of course there’s some ego-stroking involved, and it doesn’t hurt that the campaign was covered this week by Global News and CTV, but it’s clear the people who take part in this initiative have their hearts in the right place.

While their motives may be pure, the way these participants go about raising awareness for homelessness appropriates the lives of people in a marginalized group. The experiences of a couple of white, able-bodied business students, whose salaries within three months of graduation are estimated to be around $50,329, are not comparable to the experiences of Edmonton’s homeless population. Their highly publicized initiative is an absurdly romanticized version of the stereotypical homeless person’s struggles, yet it’s treated as if it’s comparable, often by the participants themselves.

“It’s crazy how just sleeping outside can affect the rest of your day,” one exec said in a video blog posted on Facebook. “I couldn’t focus in class, because I knew at the end of the day I’d have to go back outside and sleep again. It’s pretty tough.”

The people partaking in 5 Days for the Homeless are sleeping with their friends outside Business, not alone in a cardboard box off Calgary Trail when it’s -30ºC. They’re congratulated for braving the elements inside their $200 North Face sleeping bags, while homeless people are often avoided as being undesirable or blamed for their misfortunes. These participants know there will be an end to their homelessness, while homeless people have to somehow come to terms with the reality of being caught in a cycle of instability and hopelessness.

I’ve never been homeless, unless you count the time I lived for a week in a makeshift shantytown in Cameron basement (which the 5 Days for the Homeless people probably do). I can’t speak on behalf of a group in our society that is overwhelmingly made up of Aboriginal people, battered women, disabled persons, and people with severe mental illnesses. 5 Days for the Homeless claims to replicate the experiences of these individuals, but a school week is not enough time to suffer the social inequities built up over a lifetime that force people onto the streets.

The homeless in Edmonton do not embrace poverty for a feel-good public relations campaign. Barbeques and pancake breakfasts are not thrown in their honour. Local celebrities do not choose to spend a night with them in solidarity. And articles like this one are rarely written about them.


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that “The people partaking in 5 Days for the Homeless are sleeping in a tent with their friends outside Business.” Rather than sleeping in a tent, participants are sleeping outside. 


  1. I agree, just because the students are in business does not guarantee a job, much less a roof over their head. They are doing a wonderful thing to bring awareness to the plight of many persons in Edmonton, they are by no means glorifying the situation.

  2. “I can’t speak on behalf of a group in our society that is overwhelmingly made up of Aboriginal people, battered women, disabled persons, and people with severe mental illnesses”

    So don’t. I’m sick of this nonsense about privilege – just because someone has privilege doesn’t mean they can’t have an opinion and work to try to solve these inequities. What matters is that they work to TRY to understand what it means to have it, and TRY to understand the lived experiences of people who don’t.

    Would you say the same to a psychologist who spends every day working with the mentally ill (and perhaps homeless) because they are white? Educated?

  3. May be those trying to experience how it is to be homeless is to get dropped off in a city like Red Deer with $50 for the five days no (ID,credit card, no cellphone, no tent or blankets) and let them figure out how to survive with out calling mammy or daddy.

    1. As it has already been said here multiple times, at no point has the goal of the campaign ever been to “experience how it is to be homeless” it is about raising awareness and funds for a truly great organization in Edmonton.

  4. Pretty sure the only thing 5 days for the homeless actually raises awareness for is the fact business kids are ridiculously self righteous and lack self awareness. Yea raising money is great and all but literally everyone knows this is just a huge dick stroke

    1. i like how the *worst* thing that can come out of this 5 days thing is the possibility that someone’s motives are not completely pure and they are doing it to have something on their resume.

      when balanced against all the good that comes from it, such as money for an important cause, why be so petty?

      1. Because it’s a bunch of neoliberal, conservative business kids pretending to care about a problem reproduced by their political and economic ideologies. It’s no more than a feel good dick stroke in which people can pat themselves on the back for caring a little bit but ultimately not caring about the problem from the core.

        1. lol then i guess its a good thing only the participants are self-righteous, and not bitter commentators rolling their eyes at people actually doing something while basking in their own smugness and generalizations.

        2. I will preface this statement by saying I am not a “neoliberal, conservative business kid” nor am I a business student (not that it really matters). Blatant generalizations do nobody any favours and spread nothing but ignorance and hate. How about you quit bitching about people trying to help a marginalized group in our city, and get out there and volunteer at a shelter or donate money.

  5. This article is quite possibly the most uninformed piece of garbage the Gateway has dared to publish. It saddens me that the author, and “Tpot” both seem to completely miss the point of this campaign. “Tpot” wonders “Why is the experience of homeless youth only made valid and noteworthy
    once a group of privileged university students have experienced it?”

    The experience NEEDS to be made valid and noteworthy, through the experience of these Business students. Otherwise we would have narrow-minded, ill-informed individuals (like the author and “Tpot”) who would never give a single thought or a single cent to helping tackle the serious issue of homelessness in Edmonton.

    Reducing homelessness is a serious issue, and it takes serious commitment to make people aware of it. By donating money to a legitimate not-for-profit, students of all faculties (including Arts, which is where Kate hails from) can contribute. If we did not have Business students who were willing to make sacrifices and then talk about their “5 Days for the Homeless”, than the level of awareness and funding for Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) (aka where all money raised is donated to) would be far less substantial.

    I find it funny that Kate McInnes has such a bone to pick with 5 Days for the Homeless, when she is an Outreach Intern at the Office of Sustainability. Only a deluded fool like her would think to denigrate 5 Days for the Homeless, when she is part of an entire Office of Sustainability, that is determined to raise awareness for a different important issue facing our local community. For her to put down 5 Days for the Homeless as some sort of stunt, is pathetic and just plain wrong. Not to mention her ridiculous move of using the aforementioned blog writer’s statement out of context. The experience of sleeping outside (not in “$200 North Face sleeping bags”, that would only be for someone as weak-willed as the author) is to help make the experience all the more real for U of A students who are asked to donate.

    I am sure Kate would be even more offended if someone in an orange hoodie marched into her Political Science class and asked for her to donate to YESS, yet wasn’t sleeping outside, going without technology, food, showers. What would someone as misguided as her think then? Nice try, we are smarter and more passionate than you will ever believe. 5 Days for the Homeless exists to get rid of misguided opinions like the author’s, and of course to help reduce/end homelessness.

  6. I can see where the author is coming from and I sort of agree with them. Why is the experience of homeless youth only made valid and noteworthy once a group of privileged university students have experienced it? It’s not a nice thing to think about and I am sure that the participant’s hearts are in the right place but I think the author has a valid point.

  7. It’s a shame that such misinformed articles are able to be published on your site…
    This campaign is in no way trying to ‘mimic’ homelessness nor are they doing this to ‘feel good’ about themselves, because you are right in saying that at the end of the week they get to go home to a family and food on the table. However, this snarky article proves that what these students are doing is so important. They are trying to raise awareness and break the negative stigma behind youth at risk here in our own community. What is said in this article is the same as saying that if someone shaves their head for cancer they are simply doing so to pretend to have cancer? Or if someone wears pink for breast cancer awareness are they doing this with poor intentions? All of these campaigns are great initiatives to raise awareness on very real issues and these students are simply trying to raise awareness on a prominent issue that often gets overlooked. So I ask you to stop. Stop trying to belittle an impactful campaign that does GOOD in our community, stop posting misinformed messages to make yourself feel better about not caring about homelessness here in Edmonton, and stop making people who are actually trying to make a difference feel bad about themselves for giving back in a way they feel fit. To all the executives on the 5 Days team, myself and hundreds of others think what you are doing is simply amazing, and selfless. There is a reason this campaign has grown so much in the past 11 years, and a reason that you have raised over 1 million dollars for youth at risk. YESS thanks you for this, I thank you for this, and the community thanks you for this. Do not let the 1 misinformed student who did not take the time to understand the campaign or what you are doing for the community bring you down!!

    1. lol it’s a shame that a bunch of business kids can’t properly market their initiative to look like anything more than a attention grab

  8. lol the last three articles i have seen on the gateway have all been about “appropriation” in some way or another.

    really, this article is pointless. obviously it is a fictionalized simulation, and is not at all what being homeless is like, but i very much doubt the participants believe it is “the real thing”. it is simply a way of gathering donations for an organization with a good cause, through more noteworthy means than simply asking for money. i have no idea why people doing charitable things such as this would have to undergo the actual experience of something for their work to have any legitimacy.

    but nice job writing a snarky article that throws out ultimately meaningless words while contributing nothing.

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