Our Opinion: Raising Awareness Requires More Than Pretending

CORRECTION: Initially, this editorial incorrectly reported that a member of the organization DEEP (Diversity Educational Experiences for Peers) was going to be dressed as a homeless person to promote the event, “Sleep Out for the Homeless.” We apologize for the error.

Raising awareness about homelessness is a good idea; pretending to be homeless is not.

The Department of Campus Life is hosting a campout this weekend in the hopes of helping students know more about what it’s like to be homeless. And to promote the event, a student will impersonate a homeless person. We think both of these events are degrading and condescending toward the homeless.

“Sleep Out for the Homeless” will take place on the SAC green Friday night. According to fliers for the event, students are “encouraged to dress warmly and bring sleeping bags or blankets. Indoor restrooms and security will be provided.” In addition, cardboard boxes will be on sale for students to sleep in. Organizers are asking participants to donate coats, blankets, hats, gloves and scarves in all sizes.

sleep out for the homeless
sleep out for the homeless

Collecting donations can make a difference, but does Campus Life really think that the campout will help students get an understanding, or even a tiny glimpse, of what it’s like to be jobless, penniless, hungry, cold and overlooked? The answer is no, it will not. Students who come to this event will surely have eaten three meals that day, slept in a warm home the night before, chatted with friends online and taken a hot shower before purchasing a box they will throw away after pretending to be homeless for a night. These students will camp out on a manicured lawn, have running water just feet away and know that they can simply drive home and crawl into a real bed.

To many people, the homeless are considered a blight on society that should go away. They’re considered by many in society to be sub-human and scary, and this event will only further this perception.

Instead of having a campout, we suggest that Campus Life take a group of students into the realities that homeless people deal with daily. Take a group of students to volunteer at a homeless shelter; take blankets or sandwiches to a group of homeless people; adopt a homeless family — these are a few suggestions. In short, get your hands dirty.

Several movies, including The Pursuit of Happyness and The Soloist, will be screened at the event. Faculty members will be invited to lead short discussions about homelessness after the films are shown. This would be a great idea if Hollywood actually depicted reality. Instead of Hollywood, we suggest showing documentaries about homelessness. The representations of the homeless in Hollywood only perpetuate the stereotypes that further the divide between the haves and have-nots.

In addition to this entire spectacle, a student will be dressed as a homeless person tomorrow on the UC Main Street. This only begs the question: What does a homeless person look like? Certain stereotypes come to mind when thinking of a homeless person: dirty and ragged clothing, poor hygiene, stupid, no job or social skills– the list goes on and on. But where do these images come from? They come from the media, who saturate us with the same representations to the point that we think we can pick a homeless man out of a lineup.

Although their intentions are no doubt admirable, Campus Life ought to seriously reconsider “Camp Out” for the homeless. We hope they will come to their senses and go find out what homelessness is really about.

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