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Homelessness Awareness Week Offers Students Insight into the Lives of America’s Impoverished

For the past six years, students have gathered on KSU’s Quad to help raise awareness of homelessness in the community. This year, several students came out
to advocate Homelessness Awareness Week as they participated in the “Sleep Out on The Quad” event from Thursday night until Saturday morning. The event offers students insight into what it’s like being homeless.

Participants went about their regular daily schedules, but instead of going to a reliable place of residence at the end of their day, they had to find items to create a home.

Some students built tents to protect themselves from nature. Others created forts out of trash bags and cardboard boxes to reduce condensation while sleeping at night. They were faced with the difficulties of finding places to sleep, eat, and wash, just like those who are homeless.

This lifestyle is a reality for more people in the community than many KSU students may realize. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 62,000 homeless veterans. Numbers for overall homelessness are significantly greater, and university students are not immune.

KSU student Samuel Robinson knows first-hand how difficult it can be not having a place to sleep at night. The 27-year-old History and English major became homeless last year after struggling to find a job.

“A lot of people think homelessness is for people who have drug habits, people who are just lazy, but it’s not,” Robinson said. “During these bad economic times, one event can make you homeless overnight.”

Robinson said he has stayed at homeless shelters, spent time couch surfing and even slept on campus. He currently lives with fellow students while he tries to get back on his feet and has job unloading trucks at FedEx.

“It’s easy to become homeless,” Robinson said. “People have to make decisions, ‘Do I pay rent, or do I get medicine for the kids when they’re sick?’”

Robinson, who is participating in his third Homelessness Awareness Week, added that while it’s easy to become homeless, getting back on your feet is an extremely difficult process.

“It’s easy to fall down in a hole,” he said, “but to get yourself out of that hole. . . It’s very hard to climb out.” Before attendees were granted permission to sleep in the Quad area in front of the Social Science Building, students had to participate in a check-in process similar to that of a homeless shelter. Their bags were searched by police to ensure no drugs, alcohol or weapons were present, and they had to pass a blood alcohol test before being allowed to stay on the Quad.

“Sleeping out here, your hair is wet when you wake up because of the dew and all the moisture from the night and you’re freezing,” said student Scarlett Peterson. “This is just October. There’s January, and the colder months of the year.”

In some parts of Georgia, it is illegal to be homeless. According to nationalhomeless.org, in Athens, “aggressive panhandling,” defined as cursing, following someone and continuing to beg after being rebuffed can result in a six-month restraining order. In Augusta, if a person is seen loitering, begging or accumulating garbage on the street, they are asked to move along. In 2001, a crowd of homeless people in Augusta was forcefully pushed out of sight by law enforcement due to laws against homelessness.

KSU is attempting to address the problem of homelessness in the community. Advocates for homelessness awareness have donated and helped raise money for the new HAW Scholarship Fund being created. ZAXBY’S, one of the fund’s biggest sponsors, will donate benefit the fund.

“Dr. Wachniak and her husband started the scholarship for the homeless student and it just reached its goal,” said HAW board member Janese Thompson. “It will be able to fund for a homeless student. It could be for a veteran too. You have to have a solid $20,000 before you can really start using it, so they’re doing it.”

Others agree that such measures are needed. Lana Wachniak, former KSU professor and major contributor to the creation of Sleep Out on the Quad, said she would love
to start an organization to help advocate the issue of homelessness on campus.

For now, however, KSU is addressing homelessness by raising awareness and bringing together the campus and community for this noteworthy cause. According to the Center for Student Leadership website, campus partners of HAW include Adult Learner Programs, Student Life, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the President and the KSU Department of Public Safety in addition to approximately 20 nonprofit organizations.

“It’s a really good experience,” Peterson said about sleeping outside to raise awareness about homelessness. “It’s rewarding and you learn a lot.”