As an aspiring urban planner, one of the problems Morganne Williams expects to encounter is the availability of affordable housing.
She's seen firsthand how that can fester on the streets of Vancouver, where housing costs are through the roof and homelessness is a visible problem made apparent by the sheer numbers of individuals affected.
In Prince George, people without addresses are not so readily identified. You don't see them in the middle of winter curled up on George Street bedded down for the night under a blanket while a blizzard is howling. They find shelter in social service agencies that offer beds and hot meals as an alternative to dangerous overnight stay on a park bench or under a tree.
But that doesn't mean the homeless problem doesn't exist in our city, and that's why Williams and six other college and university students are sleeping on a concrete patio outside the UNBC library this week as part of the 5 Days for the Homeless, Students Supporting Youth At Risk awareness campaign.
"Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there, some people are really insecure and don't want you to know they're struggling because they can't pay their bills," said Williams, now in her fourth year at UNBC.
Williams has visited the Fire Pit, a downtown gathering place for street-oriented people, and likes the fact the 5 Days event is focused on homeless and at-risk youth and will direct money at youth projects.
"A lot of people say it's a personal choice for them to be homeless but I don't appreciate that stereotype," she said. "Sometimes they've just taken a wrong turn in life and they need to know how to get back on track."
UNBC is one of 26 universities and colleges taking part in the eighth annual event. The seven students (five from UNBC, two from CNC) are allowed to go inside during the day and attend their classes, but they have to sleep outside, can't bring any of their own food, can't use cell phones, can't change their clothes and are not allowed to shower until it ends Friday night. They eat only the food that's brought to them.
"The first night was the coldest by far, so that made [Monday] night a little bit nicer by comparison," said Courtenay Hudebine, a fifth-year English student at UNBC from Masset, on Haida Gwaii. "We all woke up at 3 in the morning, we were all so chilly. I think because we're students and we're in such a small community like this at the university, we get a lot more kindness directed to us."
As of noon Tuesday, the group had raised $1,400 towards its goal of $5,000. That's already better than last year's $800 total. Tahlia Ludlow, a native of Australia and first-year business student at CNC, admitted she bent the rules a bit by bringing two sleeping bags with her to weather the cold but the point of the whole exercise was not being lost in Tuesday's snow flurries.
"People are starting to realize what we're trying to do and appreciate what they have a little more," said Ludlow. "Last year it was -20 C and it was a lot worse. We got pretty lucky with the temperatures this year.
Organized by UNBC's Commerce Students Society, other students participating in 5 Days at UNBC are Chris Moreau, Danielle Brown, Aaron Stauble, and Sydney Sankey.