“Homelessness isn’t sexy.” Anthony Haro bluntly made this claim at a recent Alternative Break orientation before sending out a group of CofC students to work with food insecurity and homelessness in Asheville, N.C. The students laughed; Anthony smiled. Yes, the phrase sounded a bit silly, but Anthony was making a good point. Students jump at the opportunity to volunteer in schools or hospitals or nursing homes. But the streets? Not so much.
There is a stigma associated with people experiencing homelessness. Often times we feel a dividing distinction between “us” and “them.” The lines of this distinction have been blurred as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2014 Point-in-Time Count shows 34% of people experiencing homelessness are under the age of 24. This total number of un-housed teens hit 45,000 in 2014 (National Alliance to End Homelessness). CofC students, this is us. This is our age bracket. Generation Y. So why are we standing by and just watching?
In order to change these stereotypes, we must take the initiative to educate ourselves. Many stereotypes come from not properly understanding your own privilege. Many of us are under the impression that if you experience homelessness then you are not working hard enough to change your situation, and this assumption comes from not knowing the systems that can keep people homeless. With proper education, we can then do quality community service that actually helps those who experience homelessness.
As an aspiring socially active millennial, I saw the error of my ways after returning from an Alternative Break trip where we combatted hunger and homelessness in the Atlanta community. I reached out to Anthony Haro, Executive Director at the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition here in Charleston. I wanted to make a real, sustainable difference in lives that are so often passed over, discarded for “lack of importance.”
I volunteered to help with the 2015 Point-In-Time Count. The basic requirements of a PIT are to identify everyone who is experiencing homelessness on a singular night in January. Because it would be impossible to survey thousands of people in one night with the resources given, the surveys are done over a two-week period in January, all with the goal of gauging how many are with out a home on the night of January 24th. The data helps the federal government as well as local communities better understand the nature and prevalence of homelessness. The scope of my volunteerism remained within the Lowcountry counties. The 2013 PIT Count identified 6,035 people unsheltered, living in South Carolina. This marked a 28.3% increase compared to the previous count in 2011.
Astonishing. This is truly frustrating because ending homelessness is not impossible. As our economy stands right now, we are actually very capable of ending this crisis, this epidemic of American homelessness. It is a tactic referred to as “Housing First.” Beginning in 2010, President Obama’s “Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness” explains why the “Housing First” approach is imperative in wiping out chronic homelessness: “Stable housing is the foundation upon which people build their lives — absent a safe, decent, affordable place to live, it is next to impossible to achieve good health, positive educational outcomes or reach one’s economic potential.”
Nevertheless, between classes, internships, and maintaining a healthy social life, college students are not the ideal candidates for changing the face of homelessness at the moment. But this is not to say we are helpless. National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is designed specifically to offer universities and communities the chance to contribute to a national social movement. The National Coalition for the Homeless hopes to emphasize: “You can help to change the conversation about stereotypes, improve policy, help service providers, and so much more.”
Why not start next week? THIS Saturday, the 14, kicks off the week with service projects volunteering with two of Charleston’s amazing community partners. From there, the week will be filled with relevant documentaries and informed open-dialogue about the social issue.
Want more information about HHAW service projects or events? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in volunteering for 2016’s Point-In-Time Count? Contact Anthony Haro at email@example.com