When was the last time you saw a homeless person in Irvine? I’m guessing that chances are you haven’t, or if you have, it’s once in a blue moon.
In a place where it’s easy to turn a blind eye toward people who lack the most basic necessities of life, members of Students for Homeless Outreach United Together wanted to spread the word for those who live in poverty and hunger. Last week was the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, created to help bring awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness, especially since the holidays are right around the corner and people are more inclined to be in the giving spirit.
Last Thursday night, SHOUT hosted its annual sleep-out by the flagpoles on campus, where about 30 people made their beds on the cold concrete by the flagpoles at UC Irvine. The sleep-out included guest speakers who were formerly homeless, musical performances, and poetry by the group Uncultivated Rabbits.
One of the speakers, Chris Guzman, used to be homeless in high school due to various circumstances that befell his family. While homeless, he was still able to maintain honor-roll status at his school, be vice-president of his school’s Red Cross Club and be a part of various other volunteer groups. Imagine making a difference in your academic community, yet not even having your own basic needs met.
His story inspired many at the sleep-out, sending the message that even though we may be faced with adversity in life, we can still come out on top.
Guzman is now dedicated to helping people in need. With the creation of the Chris Guzman Foundation, he is able to fulfill his mission to ’empower homeless families, and underprivileged adults, teens and children by providing them with opportunities and resources to enhance their growth and development towards self-sufficiency and the American dream.’
One performer from the Uncultivated Rabbits recited a poem in which he addressed the homeless person just like anyone else. ‘You see a hobo. You will see a man with a soul. You will see your reflection.’
His words rang true because people may often dissociate themselves with homeless people. However, they are people who just happened to encounter some unfortunate circumstances.
Christine Ofrecio, a third-year mathematics major sang a song about how ‘people are born into the world with different privileges.”
“People do start their lives in different levels and it influences where you end up in the future. It’s not fair when the privileged don’t give to the less privileged,’ Ofrecio said.
Joining the SHOUT members, I layered my ‘bed’ for the night with cardboard boxes, equipped myself with two sleeping bags (one inside the other), a pillow, a tarp to cover the ground, and was decked out in the thickest sweats I could find. It was still cold. I realized that some of those who really are homeless only have a cardboard box to keep themselves warm, and this is their harsh reality every night. Many of us came to appreciate being able to have beds and a roof over our heads.
Sleeping outside can definitely take a toll. Valerie-Hite Smith, a third-year social science major with an emphasis in public and community service, and co-president of SHOUT said, ‘The biggest impact was when I woke up. I was uncomfortable, cold, I had a headache and my eyes were puffy.’
‘I felt like crap, so I can’t imagine not being able to go home and say, ‘What am I going to eat?’ And if I had children it would just intensify the problem,’ Smith added.
Though the sleep-out gave us some insight on the reality of homelessness, we did not experience the true reality of those who are homeless. As Smith pointed out, ‘I had the opportunity to go home and take a shower and sleep in my bed … but homeless people don’t.’
We even had a garbage bag full of bagels to eat for breakfast. Those who are homeless do not always know when their next meal is going to be. Also, people knew we were not actually homeless. Those who are homeless have to endure the stigma of being homeless. They are often treated as outcasts of society, stared at, frowned upon, pitied or even worse, ignored.
Those who think the homeless are lazy wonder, ‘Why can’t they just get a job?’ They may be surprised to hear that the average age of a homeless person in the United States is nine years old. Some argue that homeless people create that situation for themselves, but actually, many young children struggle through homelessness in this country. Children often have no control of where and how they live, so it is the responsibility of those who have the resources to address these issues.
SHOUT was successful in creating awareness on the problems of homelessness and more people will remember to give when they can.
For more information about SHOUT and the homeless, visit http://www.chrisguzman.org, http://www.nationalhomeless.org and http://geocities.com/uci_shout.