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UBC Okanagan students' voluntary homelessness ends tonight

Richelle Collins is among seven UBC Okanagan students that took part in the five days for the homeless project, which ends tonight.  - Kathy Michaels/Staff Reporter
Richelle Collins is among seven UBC Okanagan students that took part in the five days for the homeless project, which ends tonight.
— image credit: Kathy Michaels/Staff Reporter

Richelle Collins will get to shower, eat a home-cooked meal and sleep in her own bed tonight.

It's something the 21-year-old once took for granted but after five nights of bunking outside the sciences building at UBC Okanagan, it will be a much-appreciated change of pace.

"It's been much harder than I thought it would be," said Collins, of her five days of voluntary homelessness, Thursday afternoon. "We get up at 6:30 a.m., when the sun comes up, move into the corner and start panhandling."

Collins is among five management and two social work students at the university, dabbling in poverty as part of a campaign dubbed Five Days for the Homeless.

It was started in 2005 by business students from the University of Alberta to raise money and awareness for a local charity. Since then, schools across the country have taken the charge and this year alone their efforts have raised $128,000 nationally. Locally nearly $2,500 was raised for NOW Canada sponsored Tutt Street Place Apartment for Women and Children.

Good work and hardship aside, however, Collins admitted their efforts are far from what an actual homeless person actually experiences — although the small taste they have has been eye opening.

"We're still going to classes," Collins explained. "And inside I still want to do my best, but the physical strain from sleeping outside makes it hard — it's no wonder people have trouble getting jobs."

In addition to increasing their own level of understanding, students around the university are starting to take notice of what they've done,.

"When we started people would ask us 'what are you doing, sleeping outside?'" she said. "Now one in five say 'hi' at least."

Case in point was economic student Chris Paley, who stopped briefly to discuss what was happening.

"I'm from Niagra, Ont. and this (movement) has blown up there in the last couple of years," he said. "It's a good idea to raise awareness that it's not just stereotypical old hobos who are homeless — it can be anyone. Some people don't have money, they don't have a job and once they're on the street they can't get off."

For more information about the campaign, or to donate, go to www.5days.ca.

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