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#NHHAW – Solidarity through Experience

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Poverty

Solidarity through Experience: Experiential Learning and its place in Homeless Advocacy – Deirdre Walsh

Tonight will likely be an uncomfortable and cold evening for some of the nation’s most influential business executives.  In 14 cities nationwide, Covenant House will host its fourth Executive Sleep Out. The annual fundraiser brings not only financial resources to those combatting youth homelessness, but also much needed attention to the issues of hunger and homelessness. Executives will join together on behalf of the thousands of people around the country who have no place to call home. This act of sacrifice and attention will raise funds and awareness in order to protect the most innocent and forgotten members of our society.

The National Coalition for Homeless will also call upon people to take the ‘Homeless Challenge or participate in ‘One Night Without a Home‘ events throughout the annual National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Solidarity and understanding develops between participants and their peers without homes. These events then bring about greater public awareness and raise much needed funds for services and care for homeless individuals. Those who live in poverty and who do not have a home deserve the same treatment as the highest paid executives and everyone in between. By working together, both challenge participants and people experiencing homelessness can work to end homelessness.

Major fundraisers and awareness events such as Covenant House’s Sleep Outs and the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Homeless Challenge are part of a rising trend throughout the United States. Their goal is to spread awareness about poverty and its effects on the poorest of American citizens. Through these experimental learning events and projects, awareness for homelessness has a deeper meaning. Homelessness can be easily disregarded by the public if they have no understanding of the harsh realities and ordeals undergone by men, women, and children living on the streets. Sleep outs simulate just a small part of those experiences, but teach the participants that homelessness is more than statistics or stereotypes. Homelessness has many causes, many obstacles, and many faces.

With more and more experimental learning events and fundraisers, the question “do these programs actually work?” often comes to mind. The answer is YES! The place of simulated experiences in homeless advocacy is critical. They bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots by uniting people for one cause: to end homelessness. Statistics and facts about poverty are one-dimensional and easy to disregard. One evening on the streets cannot encompass the entirety of life without a home or financial insecurity, but it can help participants to see beyond the factual side of poverty and see the faces of hunger and homelessness. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is an opportunity for people around the country to join together and bring political and social attention to the impacts of mass poverty and homelessness. Sleep outs not only help finance the efforts of nonprofits such as Covenant House, but also bring people together in support of those who are usually forgotten. Solidarity between all Americans, no matter their financial or housing situations, will enable thousands more to resolve to fight poverty!

How to Plan for Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Poverty

Planning for National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, An Organizer’s Perspective – By Deirdre Walsh, NCH Intern

Planning events for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week can seem daunting. What will you do? Will the events be oriented towards service or education? How do you know that you are planning the right type of event? These are all common questions when starting the planning process, but the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Last year, over 750 high schools, colleges, community groups, and faith-based organizations nationwide hosted events including clothing drives, speaking engagements, educational films, and voluntarily nights without a home to understand the struggles related to the experience of homelessness. Now it is your turn to look at the impacts of poverty around you, educate yourself, and call your communities to action to help end hunger and homelessness!

The planning process must start off with two major elements. The first is a team to brainstorm and execute programs. Bring together individuals from different backgrounds who share an enthusiasm for helping to end poverty. Volunteers can be individuals who donate their time to their local soup kitchen, community leaders, and individuals who are or have experienced homelessness. Their commitment to the cause will be a part of everything you do and show others why they too should become involved. The second is a theme. It may be cliché, but the theme is everything! It helps you to clarify your goals and prevents your programming from becoming muddled. This year, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is encouraging groups to focus on youth homelessness, in honor of the launch of the National Campaign for Youth Shelter. With only 4,000 shelter beds for as many as 500,000 young people (16-24 years old), NCH recognizes that the time has come for us all to fight for more safe shelter for vulnerable youths in our communities. No matter what aspect of poverty you choose to highlight, a unifying theme is a way to bring your passions and ideas together to make your week a success!

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is dedicated to education and awareness about poverty-related issues within our local communities and across the nation. Poverty has many different causes and there are a variety of factors affecting those experiencing poverty and homelessness today. It is wise to think outside of the box and go beyond stereotypes to create awareness programs that are diverse, unique, and creative. An important element to planning an educational program is to know your audience. On a college campus, students embrace volunteerism and enjoy making toiletry kits, trail mix packs on-the-go, and sandwiches. Your local community group may want to organize a clothing drive or Oxfam Hunger Banquet while your faith-based organization can host a round table discussion to discuss poverty, its causes, and how it can be eliminated.

Engage your community! Some of the most prevalent needs may be around the corner. Rather than make assumptions, see what your local soup kitchen or community center needs. If you invite a speaker, invite someone who is local and can share experiences within the community. Engagement with local organizations and individuals has the potential to establish long-lasting relationships and service opportunities that can extend your efforts beyond H&H Week. The National Coalition for the Homeless can provide you with many more ideas for events and educational resources. Check out the 2014 manual to be inspired.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week brings people together from across the country to educate and promote change for some of the country’s most dire issues. You can be a part of this movement and help your community become a part of the solution. Planning your events is the first step to making hunger and homelessness a thing of the past. After you have planned your events, don’t forget to register them on the NCH website to become part of our national map and let participants in your area and across the country know what you are doing to celebrate Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2014!

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2014

I Chose to be Homeless: Reflections on the Homeless Challenge

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Poverty, Public Education

From October 10-12, I participated in the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Homeless Challenge. I spent 48 hours living on the streets disguised as an unhoused person—sleeping outside, panhandling, and walking blocks and blocks to access food, a bathroom, transportation, and other services.

Emily Kvalheim Homeless ChallengeOn our first night, my partner and I walked for hours in the rain. We slept in the rain with minimal coverage. My shoes and socks and waterproof jacket were soaked; my skin became like prunes. Despite the cardboard we collected, I shivered throughout the night, completely unprepared. I lay awake for hours. In the middle of the night, I got up, in need of a bathroom; I went to a fast food restaurant—like I have done in the past—but I was denied, even when I offered to purchase something. Shocked and discouraged, I walked to a fancy hotel, where I was given a key to the bathroom. For the first time that night, I felt like a human being.

The next day, I experienced this similar feeling of overwhelming gratitude when strangers helped me. I was allowed to sleep on the floor of a worship center because it was raining, and two hours of sleep at night is not enough to compensate for all of the walking we had to do. A kind volunteer at a feeding program gave me crackers, peanut butter, and cookies. One woman slowed down her car and offered us a ride and food. In the afternoon, four or five strangers reached into their wallets and gave me what they could. I made $9.43 while panhandling, and I was relieved to know that I could eat again that day. In the evening, I was welcomed by a sit-down restaurant’s owners, despite the disgust of the other customers. A $5.00 salad had never tasted so good.

Some people were less empathetic. I was kicked out of a fast food restaurant and into the rain on our second morning. Strangers sneered and laughed as they watched us. When we went to the library, I was sprayed with some sort of perfume (without my consent) due to the aroma I had acquired after not showering, applying deodorant, or brushing my teeth for three days.

I recorded the names of the businesses that treated me like a second-class citizen (as well as those that treated me as human). I wanted to expose them and take revenge. They made me feel angry and lonely because they could not see past my stench and my grime and my grimace. They were privileged enough to ignore me, and they did.

But what good would it do to retaliate? I, too, have not been compassionate enough, and I have allowed my prejudices to distort my view of the homeless. One woman, who sat across from me at a feeding program, talking to herself erratically, may have seemed strange to me before the Homeless Challenge. But when I really saw myself as her equal, and when I took the time to watch her get up and laugh as she danced to the music playing in the background, I thought she was beautiful. She had found her own happiness, amidst despair.

I met some pretty amazing people on the streets. Unlike me, they could not quit homelessness after 48 hours. They were not able to pick up their belongings, reach into their wallets, and take a taxi home. They did not get to shower or wash their clothes. They could not shut the door, turn out the lights, and climb under my pink sheets and blankets. They were left outside to sleep on the concrete, vulnerable, exposed, and ignored. They did not choose to be homeless, and I hope I will never really know how difficult it can be.

What I do know is that homelessness is a horrible situation. It is horrible after 24 hours, it is horrible after 48 hours, and I am guessing that it never really stops being horrible. No matter how many nice people and charities there are, no matter how appreciative I am of the people who helped me complete the Challenge, homelessness will always be horrible. We, as housed people, must do everything we can to eliminate homelessness and show the same compassion to those who helped and protected me on the streets.

One way you could help is by asking your family and friends to donate to the National Coalition for the Homeless, perhaps even through a fundraising page like mine. You might also consider hosting events for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week 2013 (November 16-24) to raise awareness in your community. For more information, visit the NCH website.

No one should have to live the way that I did. Together we can end homelessness.

By Emily Kvalheim, NCH Intern and American University Class of 2015

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