Though thousands of students will be heading home for the holidays this season, 21 out of every 10,000 people in the United States don’t have a home to go home to, according to the Homelessness Research Institute.
One week before Thanksgiving, hundreds of colleges, communities and cities join in on the effort to enlighten others of two important social issues in America: hunger and homelessness.
It all began in the early 1970s when the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-created National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. This year, the event began Saturday and runs through Sunday, Nov. 18.
“It’s important to see the world in a different perspective,” said Sean Vitale, 22, a co-coordinator for the event and a senior at Misericordia University. Misericordia has been in on the action for a number of years and hosts events including a sleep-out and a simulated hunger banquet, illuminating the experiences of each class in one room.
“Participating in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week not only brings greater awareness to our community, but also helps to promote the national endeavor to end hunger and homelessness,” Kristen Samuels said, the community outreach coordinator at Misericordia. “The plight of those without a home can be both lonely and difficult. Addressing their struggles by organizing and participating in this week may bring greater solidarity and understanding, as well as promote future involvement. Events, such as the sleep-out, help people realize the difficulties that homeless persons daily face.”
Students at Villanova University have been participating in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week since 1975.
However, Misericordia is not the only college to participate in raising awareness. Colleges such as Oregon State University and Villanova University have also joined in promoting awareness.
Oregon State has participating in the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week for a number of years as well, hosting events such as the Faces of Homelessness Panel and a food drive.
“[The goal of the event] is to put a human face to the issue of homelessness and allow people who previously experienced homelessness to share their stories to help to dispel negative stigmas and stereotypes,” said Emily Bowling, the civic engagement and service coordinator within student leadership and involvement at Oregon State.
Emily Mrusko, a visting volunteer and hunger poverty service coordinator at Oregon State from AmeriCorps, said she believes that college students have the most powerful voice of all while raising awareness.
“We have heard the same song and dance for many years all over the world but when it comes from the voice of someone who is young and out of college and has a bright future, when they choose to focus on this issue, they can have a strong impact,” she said.
The National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week started at Villanova University in 1975 under the guidance of Augustinian priest Fr. Ray Jackson. He and a group of dedicated Villanova students realized the power education had in raising awareness and understanding issues of poverty and homelessness. Thus, they held the first Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week event on campus. Since that time, the week of coordinated activities has spread nationally, becoming the most widely organized hunger and homelessness event on campuses across the country.
“[Hunger and homelessness are] important subject for students and the community to be aware of,” said William Stehl, associate director in the Center for Peace and Justice and coordinator for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at Villanova University.