Students at Kennesaw State University don't normally have to deal with the homeless on campus or think much about it. All that changed on October 13th as KSU hosted its first ever Homelessness Awareness Week (HAW). The event provided faculty, students, and staff an opportunity to learn more about this “invisible” and stigmatized sector of society. Education provides the foundation and drive for civic engagement. By learning about people who are in a state of homelessness, and understanding the factors that lead to it, we can become agents for change. The week of events culminated in a 42 hour “Sleep-out” where students got to feel first-hand what it’s like to live in box on the streets.
Dr. Lana Wachniak, Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at KSU, spearheaded HAW and joined the students during the sleep-out. When asked if the event had lived up to her expectations, Dr. Wachniak replied:
The events of the week surpassed my expectations. As you know, the purpose behind what we were doing was to encourage engagement through education. The education came in the form of outstanding programs, ongoing conversations, and experiential learning through the sleep-out. We had over 165 students participate in the sleep-out anywhere from 6 hours to the entire 42 hours. Many of them walked away with a new sense of understanding about the lives of others.
HAW 2008 committee member Janese Thompson echoed Dr. Wachniak’s remark by saying “A valuable and unique combination of nature, the campus community, and Metro Atlanta non-profits overwhelmingly met all expectations-see you next year on the Quad!”.
HAW 2008 was filled with speakers throughout the week who ranged from street-level workers who offered assistance, to a state level director who talked about funding. Some of these speakers had first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be homeless. Students were also able to hear from practitioners in state funded and faith based organizations. One of the last sessions on Friday night, amid wet pavement and dropping temperatures, were with 3 young men in different stages of sobriety, and with Omilami, the grandson of Hosea Williams (Hosea Feed the Hungry). The evening was powerful. Even though the lecture wrapped up around 10:30, Omilami remained and talked with several students until midnight.
It was these types of touching moments that helped make the week a success. One student described how that the way she felt about herself changed when she was "homeless". She noted the stark contrast between going to classes during the day and being in her box at night. When she crawled into her box and looked at people walking by, she said that her self-confidence disappeared. She would look up and everyone was taller than her and that, in their eyes, she seemed to blend into the pavement. Many students walked away from the experience asking the question “What can I do to help?” .
The HAW 2008 committee would especially like to thank all the organizations that participated in the week’s events:
HAW 2008 committee members:
Posted: October 28, 2008