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UBCO: Kelowna students try their hand at homelessness

UBCO students (rom left) Bobbi Rieger, Erica Sutherland, Austin Newton and Shelby Foth will participate in this year
UBCO students (rom left) Bobbi Rieger, Erica Sutherland, Austin Newton and Shelby Foth will participate in this year's 5 Days For The Homeless campaign. It is the third year UBCO students have participated in the nation-wide effort.
— image credit: Douglas Farrow / Contributor

Five days without food, water or shelter.

It might not sound like your average university memory, but a small group of UBCO students will join the national 5 days for the homeless campaign starting this Sunday in an attempt to raise money to end homelessness, and awareness of the issue.

Fourth year UBCO accounting student Austin Newton, Bobbi Rieger (second year business), Shelby Foth (third year management) and Erica Sutherland (fourth year psychology) are all going to spend five nights sleeping outside at UBCO, begging for their meals and scavenging a livelihood.

"A couple of my dad's friends have become homeless over the years because of circumstances, so I know it can happen and I know it's a cycle," said Rieger, who wants to raise awareness so others understand how easily it happens.

While the experience is not intended to mimic truly being homeless, it does catch public attention and highlight how vulnerable this population is, and some of the difficulties of living on the streets poses.

Foth has already done a similar event in Saskatchewan with a church group and said it can be very difficult to cope with the cold for one thing. Both she and Newton realize how fortunate they've been to obtain an education with the support of their families and said they were motivated by a feeling they should give back.

The challenge seemed like a good way to make a difference in her last year on campus for Sutherland. UBCO encourages students to "get involved," branding its volunteer recruitment campaigns around the concept that becoming a global citizen means being involved in areas other than just academics.

The 5 days for the homeless campaign began in 2005 at the University of Alberta's School of Business with students who expressed similar sentiments. From there, it spread across Canadian university campuses, growing to include 24 schools this year.

Kendra HapkeUBCO organizer Kendra Hapke was a participant last year and said the event caught her off guard.

"I don't think I realized what I had signed up for," she said. "It was a lot more physically tough than I had expected, but I also got a lot more out of it than I thought.

"I didn't realize how hard it was to sleep outside on cement for five days," Hapke admitted. "We could only eat donated food. We were fairly well fed, but the quality of food you're getting obviously isn't that good. So you're groggy, malnourished and I was just tired."

Each university picks their own charity and the UBCO students have picked HOPE Outreach, a volunteer service provider helping street entrenched women in Kelowna's downtown core. The non-profit was a driving force behind securing the six new beds for women at the Kelowna Gospel Mission and it's volunteers man a safe house and walk the streets daily to ensure women in Kelowna have someone to turn to when their ready to seek help.

The event begins at 5 p.m. on March 11 and runs through 5 p.m. March 16th. Anyone can donate to their efforts on line.

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