Homelessness today, housing tomorrow

JinLing Huang

Have you seen the orange and black posters around campus? They are for the Advocating Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week on campus. For the last three years, the Volunteer Center has presented the AH-HA week to educate students about homelessness.
This year there were three opportunities to volunteer at various local shelters and also a presentation by a panel of speakers who work with the homeless.
The volunteer response this year was better than last year. According to Brian Hilgeman, a junior, and the coordinator of the AH-HA week events, “We have over thirty volunteers who signed up, compared to twenty-two last year.” Most encouragingly, the majority people who signed up to volunteer showed up to help.
In the span of two short hours, the 15 volunteers managed to spruce up the COTS transitional shelter. They replaced the ceiling tiles, and also sanded and stained wooden doors and shelves. In the words of James Hall, a junior who volunteered at COTS, “It’s nice to get off of campus and do something unselfish sometimes, even if my reasons for doing unselfish things are selfish.”
Many people also signed up for the other volunteer opportunities. Six students went to the Fox Valley Emergency Shelter, and seven people visited the Hope House in Milwaukee, where they planned and cooked meals for homeless families. Caroline Thao, a freshman, shared her experience, “We cooked fajitas, apple pies, and cinnamon rolls for about twenty-four people. I was able to see people from different socio-economic groups and certain social problems that aren’t as apparent as in Appleton.”
The panel of speakers brought home the immensity of the problem with homelessness not merely in Appleton, but also in larger cities such as Chicago. About 25 people, including students and members of the public, attended.
Ed Sherman, director of the advocacy group Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, explained that the three major reasons for homelessness were the lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs that pay a functional wage, and lack of health care and support systems.
Homelessness does exist in Appleton. Deb Cronmiller, director of the Fox Valley Emergency Shelter, talked about the efforts to prevent homelessness, such as instituting training programs so that unemployed can be work-ready. Out of the homeless people that visited the shelter, 40 percent had jobs and 60 percent had certain childhood traumas that prevented them from working. Last year, 960 people stayed at the shelter, and another 1,143 took part in the prevention program. The Class of 1965 Grant funded this talk.
If you would like more information on how you can help, please contact the Volunteer Center at 832-6644.