Homelessness Awareness Week, Thanksgiving should lead to reflection

By now you will have seen that this week is Homelessness Awareness Week, operated by the Student Alliance Against Poverty. It is an opportunity, as we approach Thanksgiving, to reflect. Wash. U. students began sponsoring Homelessness Awareness Week in 2004, and the week holds special relevance in this year’s economic climate.

Earlier this year, a pregnant woman stood at the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker, holding a cardboard sign and asking for money. Though physically close to our campus, her situation is light-years away from the privileged environment that we inhabit. More than 18,000 people in the St. Louis metropolitan area are homeless, and the municipal government is notorious for its ill treatment of the homeless. In 2004, the ACLU won a lawsuit stating that the police had unfairly and unjustly attempted to remove members of the homeless community here for no reason.

The situation of the St. Louis homeless is easily stated, but difficult—even wrenching—to imagine. To know that it is you who enjoys a college education, relative financial stability, your own bed in November, and they who suffer the unimaginable daily indignities that attend American homelessness, engenders a vexing kind of guilt and shame. The fact that no one deserves what the homeless go through makes you wonder what you did to deserve what you have. Since you’re only a college student, the answer is nothing. So why you and not them? To say anything but “luck” seems like the height of vanity.

It’s no fun thinking like this. That, combined with the problem’s centuries-old recalcitrance, is what makes homelessness an under-examined issue even in as activist a community as Washington University. And this is why the efforts of the students who organized Homelessness Awareness Week are to be commended—all week long, the Student Alliance Against Poverty will be operating a campus-wide food drive with collection depots operating at the DUC, South 40 House, and the Village as well as various spots around campus to take canned food.

Homelessness Awareness Week kicked off with a screening of the documentary film “Tent City” on Tuesday night. Its organizers are also sponsoring two more events this week, a Hunger Banquet Thursday night at 7 p.m. at McMillan Café spotlighting the causes of global hunger, and a Holiday Dinner at the Bridge (run by the Centenary Church of St. Louis), a chance for students to share a meal with the homeless community.

We commend the organizers of Homelessness Awareness Week for the initiative they’ve taken in integrating the Wash. U. community in the struggle against homelessness. We’re going to try to make some of these events, and we hope that you will too. They’re doing a good job, and it’s up to us to ensure that an awareness of the pervasive problems associated with homelessness lasts more than a week. It’s important that we move beyond sponsored events with free food and toward activities that will make an impact—away from empty dialogue that declares homelessness a problem and toward actions that take steps to solving it. To do any different is to make Thanksgiving seem like just another opportunity to ponder the riddle of our own privilege.

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