Have you ever walked in a city to see individuals lined up along the streets with nowhere to go? Have you stopped to think about what one person could do to assist a fellow human in the long term? According to statistics reported by the National Coalition for the Homeless, in April 2018, it was estimated that there were more than 550,000 homeless people on one night alone in 2017.
Within our own Eastern community, the activist ministry club, Youth Against Complacency in Homelessness Today, better known by the acronym Y.A.C.H.T, strives to embody the principles of combating systemic injustice through providing food and establishing positive communication with homeless individuals. In an interview with YACHT, leader Sarah Sweitzer allowed a closer look into how the Eastern community and beyond can contribute to addressing homelessness and a history of YACHT’s past, present and future activities.
“What I’ve been told is that in the 90’s, a group of people from Eastern went to the subway in Philly and just sat there with people who were experiencing homelessness. Sometimes they’d talk, sometimes they just sat there, because then the cops wouldn’t kick the homeless people back out onto the streets. Shane Claiborne was one of the original yacht people, if you know who that is” Sweitzer said.
With humble beginnings, Y.A.C.H.T continued to grow and eventually sought to provide food and began outings with Eastern sponsored vans to connect with homeless individuals.
“I’d say the advantages are that we get to develop relationships with people. They know when we’re there, and they know Eastern, and eventually friendships form” Sweitzer said.
A critical aspect of Y.A.C.H.T is fostering relationships among the homeless individuals who are often isolated from others around them and who experience loneliness and seclusion. As Sweitzer emphasized, “They laugh and talk to us. If nothing else, we know that they’re at least getting a meal that day, and that we were able to make them smile. Maybe God does even more through our outings that we don’t know about.” Other current activities that YACHT has done besides outings, includes the H.A.H.A week, which stands for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness initiative, with the goal of raising awareness of the ministry and homelessness in our area. Preparation that the club underwent included:
“Reserving spaces for events, like the ice cream fundraiser, contacting other groups on campus, like Watchmen and the chaplains who helped us on our prayer walk, and coordinating times that hopefully worked well with the other campus events” Sweitzer said.
As an active campus club, it is not without some concerns for engaging in more activities and outreach initiatives.
“Some of our short term goals are to get more regular yacht members as our goal for 2018 was to have 10 dedicated members, plus to keep five dedicated service learners even after their hours were fulfilled. We sincerely struggle with getting people to come once service learning is over” Sweitzer said.
Y.A.C.H.T demonstrates drive and motivation to assist in addressing homelessness, and Sweitzer gives a significant take away on the importance of directed action to which she expresses that: “Helping people is definitely something that I think the youth of this generation think is a good thing, but I don’t know how many actually do it. think in this age, it’s easy for someone to create a persona that they’re a nice, helpful person and they may even start to believe it. I think that everyone just thinks that someone else will do something, but no one takes an initiative themselves”. With the YACHT leaders and involved members, there is hope that more can be done but it is essential and vital that action is taken as a community together.
“We really do want to get the club more involved besides just giving out meals. It’s a good thing, but we have the resources to do so much more. We hope to get different programs to partner with us, like CCAS or the Career Center, since a lot of the people we meet could use help with mental health and with finding jobs. We want to be able to get our friends off the streets and into housing and secure work. We are interested in setting up programs or events that help them to create resumes and find jobs” Sweitzer said.
Among the various challenges that many homeless people face, we ask ourselves as the youth of our generation what can we possibly do in our position? Engaging with on-campus club ministries like Y.A.C.H.T that directly seek to positively impact underprivileged communities and facilitate initiatives for greater change is a certain method to do so. But most essential it is to be against complacency in systemic issues of homelessness that affect the most vulnerable of populations.
**Y.A.C.H.T outings and meetings are arranged Thursdays and Saturdays every semester and to participate, individuals should send an email to: email@example.com **
Sources: National Coalition for the Homeless