Homelessness campaign criticism undeserved

Letter to the Editors

Re: “Charity campaign needs to improve” (March 23, 2012)

Dear Editors,

We are writing to address the various criticisms raised in last week’s editorial concerning the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign. We agree with the editors that “it is important to look at the campaign critically.” Below are some of our thoughts.

Criticism that the campaign was not “a true emulation of homelessness” misses the point. The goal of the campaign was never to provide a cathartic personal experience of what it is like to be homeless, nor was it to project an accurate depiction of homelessness onto the community.

The goal of the 5 Days campaign is to raise money for local youth at risk, and to raise awareness of the matter more generally. The 13 of us who brought this initiative to Queen’s for the first time surpassed our original goal of $5,000, and we are proud that we ended up donating over $8,600 to the Kingston Youth Shelter.

Further, arguing that the 5 Days campaign did not make an “adequate attempt to educate people on what it really means to be homeless” calls for an easy response: you’re right. We didn’t make an attempt to educate people for two reasons: we are well aware that we are in no position to do so, and it was never our goal to do so. What we did do was raise money — a lot of money. This money will help the youth in our community, and give them a safe place to put their heads down at night.

The concern that the money raised will “repair beds and bathrooms, but it won’t affect homelessness’ root causes” is also answered simply: of course it won’t. Does that mean it’s better to sit back and do nothing at all? To criticize our charitable efforts because our aim was to improve the plight of homeless youth in the community, rather than to implement preventative measures or address greater systemic issues, is unproductive. By that logic, one could argue that money spent treating AIDS or any other illness is somehow less important because it is a treatment rather than a cure.

Alleging that “it shouldn’t be necessary to take part in a spectacle to raise money for a cause” mistakes why the campaign was a success. Advocates often take extraordinary measures to attract attention to their cause. In a perfect world, people would take an interest in a cause for the utility of the cause itself, but the fact remains that through sleeping outdoors and soliciting donations we raised thousands of dollars that we would not have without these efforts.

Of course charitable efforts — similar to most things in life — can be improved across the board, and of course there are important systemic issues that should continue to be advocated for. But it’s important to remember that it’s easier to be an armchair cynic than it is to take action and get involved in the community.

There are two types of people in the world: those who say “look at how far you have to go,” and those who say “look at how far we’ve come.” The charge that the campaign “needs to make changes if it takes place again” is true: it needs to get even bigger, it needs more students from more faculties to participate and it needs to make even more money for a great cause.

Again, we are eternally grateful for the love and support that the community showed us during our campaign. We’d like to thank everyone who supported us, and we look forward to the growth of the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign at Queen’s in the years to come.

Ben Adelson, JD ’12
Dana Carson, JD ’13

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