The “Sleep Out” consisted of guest speakers, performances and service activities, which included assembling breakfast bags and hygiene kits. Although around 80 students were present near the beginning of the night, by midnight, a group of only 20 students remained to actually sleep outside on the concrete and experience a small dose of what homelessness really feels like.
“This is a great way to spread awareness and involve the community,” said fourth-year president of S.H.O.U.T Dasha Claussen. “Most people don’t see what goes on with the homeless and we want to let everyone know that this is a problem we can help make better.”
S.H.O.U.T. is a non-profit organization that aids the homeless and educates the community throughout Orange County and Southern California about the issue.
This service club works in collaboration with Isaiah House, UCI Center for Service in Action (CSA), and other local soup kitchens and shelters in order to work toward a brighter future for the homeless.
“When servicing the homeless, we get an emotional high from volunteerism. We focus on what people need, like hygiene kits,” said fourth-year co-president of S.H.O.U.T Sarah Xie.
The group distributed the breakfast bags and hygiene kits around the community on Sunday morning and plan to continue this throughout the year.
They also regularly visit the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen to help provide and serve food for the homeless and disadvantaged. “Every little thing counts, like joining us and going out to volunteer or taking the time to donate necessary items like clothing or toiletries,” Claussen said.
While homelessness is not as visible in Orange County as it may be in other cities such as Los Angeles or Berkeley, it is still present.
“We have a high homeless population because the cost of living is so high here,” said Darlene Esparza, the club advisor and director of CSA. “There are displaced families, adults, children and seniors who are homeless.”
Orange County is second only to Los Angeles for the largest number of homeless people in California, according to the OC Community Indicators report in 2008. The blog also said, “In Orange County, out of our 35,000 homeless, 80 percent of them were forced into this lifestyle because of the lack of affordable housing and rent controls.”
“The first step is learning about the issue rather than just shrugging it off,” Esparza said. “We have the tools and resources. It’s really about utilizing each of your own strengths to find the right organization or agency to get involved with.”
In September, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) awarded $42.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding from the federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) to 31 agencies and local governments in California.
“This funding will boost efforts helping those who find themselves on the edge of homelessness and add support for the homeless – and it couldn’t have come at a better time thanks to President Obama’s Recovery Act,” Schwarzenegger said in the announcement.
Back on the local level, however, involvement and awareness is quite low. No more than a hundred people showed up to the Sleep Out, and most of them left early. Irvine’s reputation and stereotype of being a “Stepford-like” affluent suburban Eden veils the reality that exists out on the streets.
The Sleep Out was just one of many events and organizations involved during the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
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