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Homeless Awareness Week and the Young

Cardboard shantyActually, the proper name is “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week” but that makes a very long title. If we observed truth in labeling rules and went all the way, it would be “Hunger and Homelessness, and Untreated Mental Illness, and People Freezing, and Kids Having No Place to Do Their Homework… Week.” Well, you get the picture. Accurately and comprehensively named, the title of the Week could easily take up an entire page.

If there is a good side to all this, it is that young people are catching on, both becoming more conscious themselves, and making an effort to raise the consciousness of adults who have most of the money and most of the power that is needed to actually effect change. Around the country, the youth are doing what they can. Checking in with the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, we find a decisive mission statement:

The Campaign is committed to ending hunger and homelessness in America by educating, engaging, and training students to directly meet individuals’ immediate needs while advocating for long-term systemic solutions.

The Campaign offers a 20-page PDF file, the “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Fall 2010 Toolkit,” and while it’s a bit late to organize anything for this year, now is an excellent time to start planning for next year. There is no danger that we will arrive at November 2011 and suddenly realize, “Wait a minute, homelessness is no longer a problem — what did we learn all this stuff for?” Ain’t gonna happen. One thing you can be sure of is, your efforts will not be wasted.

This really is an excellent guidebook for activists. It includes advice on which leadership roles need to be filled, and how to reach out to existing campus organizations to get their cooperation. It includes publicity ideas, advice on media relations, and suggestions for events to stage. One useful idea is to host a panel and bring in some actual homeless people to give their perspective.

The action that seems to garner the most press attention is the homelessness simulation event. All across the country, kids are sleeping out, to see what it’s like to go without their accustomed comforts for one night.

From the “affluent village” of Clarendon Hills, Illinois, Chuck Fieldman tells us that, last Saturday night, 1,500 teenagers (as young as 7th grade) and young adults from all over DuPage County took part in such an experiment in empathy, getting a small taste of how it feels to be homeless. Participants in “Sleep Out Saturday Night” spent the night outside in tents, boxes, cars and sleeping bags in parking lots, parks and backyards to raise awareness about family homelessness and raise money for Bridge Communities’ Transitional Housing Program.

Bridge Communities is a local nonprofit group that helps families gain self-sufficiency. This was the event’s seventh year. The average age of a person experiencing homelessness in DuPage County is eight years. Some housed kids have never realized before that children younger than themselves are without homes.

In Indiana, Anderson University hosts an overnight event called “Reality Check: Confronting Homelessness,” which runs 13 hours and costs $10 to participate in. Other sponsors of the event are Ball State University, Ivy Tech, and a number of elementary and high schools. Along with raising funds, they collect blankets and socks. Reporter Aimee Munn says,

Homelessness is a very real issue in Anderson and in the Central Indiana region. According to The Christian Center website, there are ‘663 people experiencing homelessness each night and 183 of them are children.’

In Kansas City, Missouri, Friday night was “One Homeless Night” for hundreds of teenagers who raised money for Synergy Services. This Thursday, students at Coastal Carolina University will spend the night in a “Chanty Town” of cardboard boxes. And so it goes, across the nation, as the young prepare to take on the mantle of responsibility for changing the world they find themselves in.

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Source: “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Fall 2010 Toolkit” (PDF), StudentsAgainstHunger.org, 2010
Source: “Getting a taste of being homeless,” TheDoings-ClarendonHills.com, 11/09/10
Source: “AU students, alumni to participate in overnight homeless experience,” Anderson.edu, 11/09/10
Image by quinet ( Thomas Quine), used under its Creative Commons license.