Nov. 16 to Nov. 24 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, and one organization on campus, Youth Against Complacency and Homelessness Today (YACHT) has planned an entire week of events centered on raising awareness for these issues.
“This week is mainly centered around putting a human face to those who are often labeled as ‘the homeless’ and ‘the poor.’ In other words, HAHA week is about coming together as a community to discuss, learn, and magnify the issues that our fellow brothers and sisters are facing each day and night,” Mary Johnson, one of the leaders of YACHT, said.
HAHA Week kicked off on Friday, Nov. 15 at Windows on the World. Karen Ennis and Cassandra Staton, speakers from Washington D.C.’s National Coalition for the Homeless, came and talked openly about their experiences of being homeless, discussing what led to them having no home, what it was like trying to sustain themselves and their children and what they went through to get proper housing. Their stories of addiction, assault and abuse were heart-wrenching and emotional, but through it all, they both mentioned how the grace of God got them through it all. “No matter what I went through, I had God on my side,” Staton said in her testimony.
Throughout the rest of HAHA week, students across campus were encouraged to join YACHT on a prayer walk around campus on Monday, where students prayed for something relating to certain spots on campus, like praying for clean and accessible water at the water wheel. On Tuesday, students made bread and muffins to give to those experiencing homelessness and wrote letters to the mayor of Philadelphia advocating against the new anti-homeless architecture, such as benches with metal bars in the center so people can’t sleep on them. Wednesday, the group organized and washed donated clothes so that on their weekly Thursday outing into Philadelphia, they could hand them out to those experiencing homelessness along with the baked goods from earlier in the week.
Friday marked their annual sleepout. After hearing from a guest speaker from The Synergy Project, an organization that offers food and shelter to homeless youth, the members of YACHT and any other students willing to participate slept on Eastern’s tennis courts in cardboard boxes. “Although sleeping on Eastern’s safe tennis courts is much different than what individuals experiencing homelessnesss go through, we hope to spend this night in reflection and contemplation,” Johnson said.
Even though HAHA Week is over, there are still ways you can help raise awareness about the issue of homelessness and actively participate in working to decrease the amount of homelessness and hunger. “We invite everyone to come and join us on an outing to get to know the people we serve. It’s important to remember that they are real people going through tough situations,” Kendra Kemp, another of YACHT’s leaders, said.
“Each week I have the privilege of seeing new faces, learning new names, and loving more people. While it can be very saddening to see or hear about certain things on the streets of Philadelphia, I cannot help but think that what saddens myself or others for a moment is someone’s daily way of life,” Johnson said in regard to the weekly outings.
While YACHT outings are a fantastic way of reaching out to people experiencing homelessness, participating in these outings is not the only way you can help. “If you are going to the city, carry around a few granola bars or food that can be handed out. That way, you can help people along the way. If you don’t have food with you, take a few minutes to talk with them. A genuine conversation can make their day!” Kemp said.
As Ennis finished telling her story and giving her testimony at Windows on the World, she gave the crowd words of wisdom and encouragement and ways to interact with the people who are experiencing homelessness. “When you look at someone who is homeless, she may have gone through something like what I did…Ask them their name get to know them, give them a smile,” said Ennis.
Ultimately, a small act of kindness can go a long way when it comes to helping those in need, so don’t only try to help during HAHA week. Be a light to others every day both in the big and little things you do.