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!