Students on UBC Okanagan’s campus are getting a first-person perspective on what it’s like to be homeless.
For five days, students are sleeping outside of the campus UNC building to raise awareness and gather donations for H.O.P.E. Outreach, a volunteer group that provides vulnerable women with shelter and resources.
Paarus Kahlon and Kennedy Dass zipped their sleeping bags together to stay warm. The pair will not shower, change their clothes, sleep inside, or buy food for the full five days.
Pizza boxes, a bag of carrots, cups of coffee and folded cardboard boxes were scattered around them.
The students were each given a kit by H.O.P.E. which contains a toothbrush, shampoo, a needle disposal kit, a chocolate bar and a few other necessities.
“It’s harder than it looks, this is obviously not exactly what (homeless people) go through. Our friends and family here are donating food and there’s a lot of students on campus reach out to us because they know us,” said Kahlon.
The event, put on by the UBCO Management Association, started at 5 p.m. Sunday and will go until Friday at 5 p.m.
“So many people stare at us on their way and you just really understand how homeless people are sitting there all day, and people just walk by them and give them looks,” said student AJ Lefebre.
For the biggest night planned for Wednesday, organizers expect between 10 to 17 participants. Not all participating students will spend five days outside.
“The whole point is raising awareness, we want other students to understand what it’s like to (be homeless),” said Kahlon. “We’ve reached the goal of everyone on campus is thinking about it, thinking about homelessness. Of course, we’re targeting absolute homelessness.”
The participating students have also faced criticism.
“The most criticism we’re getting is ‘homeless people don’t have laptops.’ We are students, we need to finish our assignments while living on the street,” said Kahlon.
They said the expectation is not to experience complete homelessness but to bring awareness to the issue in Kelowna.
Last year, Lefebre sat outside with a change jar.
“It was amazing how many people avoided us by crossing the street,” she said. “If you treat me this way and you know I’m a full-blown student, how do you treat people downtown that are actually asking for change?”
“Since that experience last year, I don’t walk by a homeless person without giving them a toonie or however much I have in my wallet. It’s really opened my eyes to how people stare at us. There’s such a negative stigma around it.”
Fourth year student Riley Knudsgaard said she supported the idea to try and raise awareness.
Student union president Trophy Ewila said the students have created conversation on campus, both negative and positive
On Friday, the association is holding an event at Tree Brewing at 7 to 9 p.m. All proceeds will go to H.O.P.E. Outreach.
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