This past week, several Olivet students raised awareness for the homeless by trying to live like them. I think that it is always good to remind privileged college students how other people live. We are very rich compared to most people around the world. However, I am unsure how much effect Homeless Week has on homeless people.
Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but sleeping outside for a week does not mean someone else will have a bed. The world does not have a set number of homeless people and when someone decides to “go homeless,” a homeless person does not automatically get off the streets. Though homeless people benefit from the money raised, they do not directly benefit from Olivet students sleeping outside.
Additionally, Olivet’s version of homelessness is one-dimensional. My church at home is in the inner-city of Cleveland, one of the poorest urban centers in the country. I have encountered many homeless people and have discovered that the reasons for homelessness are as varied as those who experience it. It is impossible to create a picture of poverty that grasps the breadth of situations.
If Olivet students want to accurately experience homelessness, I think it would be better to spend time in a homeless shelter, as a day trip so as to not take beds away from others. Though it would require more work to organize, the benefit would be interaction with real homeless people. Students could then share what they observed and collect an offering, or canned foods, for the shelter. I think more money would be raised, since the student body would see authentic homelessness. Also, on years like this one when we are passing around a flu bug anyway, it would prevent students from dealing with sickness in an unpleasant situation.
If, however, the students who “go homeless” feel that they benefit from the experience, then Homeless Week is worthwhile. However, we should be honest about how much it helps others.
— Grace Pelley, Staff Writer