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Creating Compassion with Cardboard Boxes

Published: November 20, 2009
UT students are starting to feel what it might be like to be homeless.

During Hunger and Homelessness Week Nov. 16-20, they have heard real life stories from people who were previously homeless in a Faces of Homelessness speakers panel, have witnessed a symbolic distribution of the world’s food in the Oxfam Hunger Banquet and they set out cardboard boxes for a 24-hour experience of what it might be like to not have a home.

“It opens your eyes up and breaks down your stereotypes,” said Mike Seitzler '10, one of the two head coordinators of the PEACE Volunteer Center.

In the Faces of Homelessness panel, the students learned from the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County that the number one reason for homelessness is a lack affordable housing. The speakers gave attendants tips for interacting with homeless people; saying hello can make more of an impact that one might think.

“It means a lot to acknowledge that they are there,” Seitzler said. “It lets them know you care.”

Hillsborough County has the highest rate of homelessness in the state, according to the coalition, and comprises 20 percent of the homeless individuals in Florida.

“Becoming involved and educating yourself on this issue is part of being a student at UT, because being a student here means being a part of the community,” said Hannah Duprey '10, the other head coordinator of PEACE. “It’s part of being a citizen. If you’re a voter, you’ll face this issue. Walking down the streets, you’ll face this issue.”

Since 2000, PEACE has coordinated the week-long events to get students thinking about the issues of hunger and homelessness, but now they are realizing it’s too big of an issue.

“One week is not enough,” said Megan Frisque, assistant director of civic engagement in the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement.

Starting Nov. 30, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer will be on campus full-time, working on a year-long campaign focused on this issue as one of her major projects.

“As an institution of higher education, it is our responsibility to educate students on issues in our city,” Frisque said. “This initiative will provide students a better understanding of homelessness and an opportunity to serve members of the homeless community.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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