Lethbridge is notorious for incessant, driving winds and all a group of university students has between them and the biting chill is a giant cardboard box.
Five University of Lethbridge students moved into a giant box set up within campus on Sunday, giving up all comforts and luxuries for five days in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Woods Homes Youth Shelter, an organization that provides a safe place to stay for homeless youth in the southern Alberta city.
The group's effort, which is part of the national 5 Days for the Homeless initiative, has only just begun and they've already had to endure paralyzing winds, blowing snow and the typical temperatures that mark this time of year. It's the price the students say they are willing to pay to shine a spotlight on the plight of the homeless in Canada and in their own city.
"Our first evening of five days started out with that typical Lethbridge wind, this didn’t stop us from building a fairly sturdy and insulated shelter. After the sun went down the temperature dropped, but because of all of us jammed in the box we stayed fairly warm," said participant Katie Kalmar.
"One of the biggest challenges I see for myself this week will be actually getting some sleep. Our current “mattress” is two layers of cardboard with a layer of newspaper in between, but it is just as uncomfortable as the cement it’s on top of," she said.
"This morning we woke up to a few inches of snow on the ground and all across the top of the shelter."
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"Living outside for 5 days without the comforts of home and technology is a real eye opener. We got to experience the harsh realities of living on the street first hand and it brought context to the homeless problem we have right here in our great nation and city," Management Students’ Society President Jesse Zimmer wrote in a Facebook post.
The group's Facebook page points out that on any given night 33,000 Canadians are homeless, of which as many as 11,000 are youth, and that while adults become homeless for a wide variety of reasons - loss of a job, marital breakdown, mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction - when it comes to youth and children, the reasons tend to be out of their control.
"As we get closer to the days, I’m beginning to question some of my life choices.
Am I really going to give up my soft, warm bed and kitties for a cardboard box in the wind? Am I really going to give up my strict eat-whatever-the-heck-I-want-whenever-the-heck-I-want diet regimen for a sporadic assortment of carbs at the mercy of strangers? Am I really going to give up my seemingly bottomless hot water tank for stringy hair and grimy skin? Am I really going to give up my closet and the countless combinations of colour and fabric therein for a single pair of socks? Yes – and gladly."
Participant Emma Ladouceur, via Facebook
The group was handed the materials to build their shelter on Sunday, just before they became voluntarily homeless. They will stay in their giant box for the rest of the week.