Commerce Students’ Society cancels week-long homelessness fundraiser due to coronavirus

Campus Local News

Cancellation comes after university announces decision to move away from on-campus learning

The David Strong Building at UVic. File Photo by Belle White

Amid concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic, the University of Victoria Commerce Students’ Society (CSS) have decided to cancel a week-long event dedicated to increasing awareness about homelessness, but will still continue an online campaign to support the cause. 

The decision comes after UVic announced on March 13 that they were transitioning away from face-to-face instruction in favour of online learning for the rest of the semester. 

5 Days, an event founded in 2005 by students from the University of Alberta, is a campaign run by the Canadian Association of Business Students (CABS). The event called for students to simulate homelessness — agreeing to go five days without modern comforts such access to showers, beds, kitchens, or personal electronics — and still attend classes. Students were also barred from spending their own money on food or beverages, and instead are forced to rely on friends, family, or strangers to provide them with meals. 

“We are very lucky to have the option to go home, to be sheltered, and to be able to limit our interactions with others during this time. Many people who live on the streets do not have this luxury,” the CSS wrote in a press release on March 14. 

“At a time like this, it is important to reflect on our own privilege and recognize that ​the homeless community needs our help now more than ever.”

On March 13, CABS issued a press release recommending that all schools taking part postpone their 2020 events — including sleeping outside and taking physical donations from individuals. 

Seventeen universities participated in the event last year, including both the University of British Columbia and University of Northern British Columbia, raising over $170 000. The UVic CSS was to be taking part in the nationwide event for the first time, and were hoping to raise $3 000 for Our Place — a charity that provides meals, showers, and counselling support for Victoria impoverished or homeless.

“What the fundraiser really is about is raising awareness for issues around homelessness, and raising money for a local charity,” said Carl Haynes, Executive of Community Outreach, in a phone interview with the Martlet on Mar. 9. “A real value that I see in this event is building the ability for people to empathize with people who are living on the street, and seeing them more as people.”

The CSS had been planning the fundraiser since mid-December, and initially had difficulty cooperating with the university to stage the event. The group asked for a sit-down meeting with UVic administration to work out specifics and address any issues perceived by university administration. However, Haynes said, UVic initially declined a sit-down meeting and either passed the student society’s emails asking the university to reconsider to administrative assistants or ignored their emails entirely even after support from the Gustavson School of Business and CABS. 

Jazz Chodak, president of the CSS, said the sticking point was a policy that forbids students from residing on campus. 

One day after the Martlet reached out to UVic on March 9 for comment on the situation, the Office of Student Life agreed to meet with the CSS on March 12 to discuss hosting the event on campus provided the collective agrees to conditions.

After the meeting, the university agreed to let the CSS host the event and sleep on campus. The CSS was originally planning on sleeping in a park close to campus, however, Haynes said in the meeting with UVic they were able to outline risks that were presented of sleeping away from campus, and the university then decided it would be safest to host the event at UVic.

The student society planned for volunteers to be with students with emergency supplies, food, and cell phones 24 hours a day. Seven students were signed up to participate in the week-long event, which was to kick off with an opening event at The Commons restaurant downtown on Sunday where participants were to be served their last purchased meal. 

Business faculty, Dean the of Gustavson School of Business Saul Klein, and Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes were expected to come to the kickoff event. The week was also to include a bottle-drive fundraiser with help from the Engineering Students’ Society (who were scheduled to host a pancake breakfast of their own that week), and was to wrap up with a concert at the Capital Ballroom on Mar. 20. 

Despite the cancellation of they physical event this year, the CSS hope to push the campaign online and share posts on social media. The collective also hopes to grow the event in the future, and have a yearly campus-wide event with different groups involved to advocate for issues around homelessness. 

“We really just want to create a big, staple UVic event where there’s lots of different parties involved … to raise awareness of issues around homelessness, affordability, substance use, and all of the many topics that are under that umbrella of vulnerability,” said Haynes.

To donate and learn more information about this cause, visit the Commerce Students Society’s 5 Days fundraising page here