UBC student Poonam Sahota was among a group of 8 UBC students who slept on the pavement for a week to raise awareness and funds to fight homelessness. In an interview with The South Asian Post she revealed that there was security (and warmth) in numbers and that far worse than hearing 'no' is being ignored.0
Q. Describe your campaign (who was it for and how was it conducted)
A. The 5 Days for the Homeless campaign is a nationwide event that started in the University of Alberta. Our campaign was specifically directed at raising funds for Directions Youth Services Centre that helps youth get back on their feet again.
We were also focused on raising awareness around campus and our community.
There were eight of us who gave up our basic necessities and camped outside the UBC bookstore.
We were out there for 5 days, the only food and water we could have was what people donated to us. We did not carry any money or electronic devises (like cellphones or iPods).
We slept on cardboard with our sleeping bags and the only clothes we had to wear were the ones on our back.
Throughout the 5 days we would venture out on campus to raise funds and awareness around the issue of youth homelessness.
Q. How many nights did you sleep on the pavement?
A. We slept outside for five nights
Q. What was the first night like?
A. The first night was the hardest for everyone. It was incredibly cold and we initially made the mistake of sleeping away from each other instead of close so create more heat.
The cardboard wasn’t too bad to sleep on but it was still hard to fall asleep.
I would say that I probably got around an hour or two of sleep that night.
I also didn’t have access to the time so it seemed as if the night would go on forever.
At one point it got so cold I had to get out of my sleeping bag and go for a walk to warm myself up.
Q. Did you meet any real homeless people while on the streets? Describe the experience?
A. We met a couple of homeless people or people who have been homeless before.
It was an interesting experience because we received a lot of mixed feelings from them.
For the most part, the homeless people I talked to appreciate what we did. They told us that it was important for us to raise awareness about this issue.
We met one youth from the Directions Youth Services Centre who talked to us about his story and how Directions Youth Services Centre helped him get off the streets.
He was appreciative of what we were doing.
That was rewarding for us to hear and it allowed us to move away from the negative comments.
Q. How did you manage showers and bathroom breaks?
A. Showers were not permitted during the week.
We were able to use the public bathrooms in the buildings on campus when they were open.
Q. Who were you raising funds for?
A. We were raising funds for Directions Youth Services Centre.
Q. What have you learned about being homeless?
A. One thing we want to make very clear is that we knew we were nowhere close to being homeless. Our point wasn’t so much to be homeless as it was to raise awareness and funds. We still had our feelings of hope and knew we got to go home at the end. We also had an incredible support system behind us throughout the week.
Our point was to be a 3D banner and in everyone’s faces so they could address this serious issue. I don’t think there is anything I can say that I learned from being homeless since I wasn’t anywhere close to being homeless, but I did learn that the smallest gestures of kindness and love can make a huge difference.
Being ignored while asking for donations was tough but it made us feel good to be acknowledged to know that we aren’t invisible to people.
And knowing that people care about our cause and want to help was heartwarming as well.