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ISSUE 121 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2008

Homelessness probed

By Mike Morelock
Contributing Writer


Friday, April 11, 2008

Nine St. Olaf students participated in a Center for Experiential Learning-sponsored homeless immersion experience called "A Day in the Life." The program is facilitated by St. Steven's Human Services in Minneapolis and is open to the public as a way to learn about the realities of homelessness.

From Friday afternoon to Saturday, the students spoke with program leaders about homelessness. Many of the speakers had a great deal of experience working with the homeless or were once in a position of homelessness themselves. "Talking with members of the homeless community about their lives really puts a new perspective on the whole thing," participant Allie Pyan '09 said.

The students also had the opportunity to speak personally with men and women who currently have no home. Janne Dale '08 said that one man she talked with, nicknamed 'Cabbage,' excused himself from conversation because he was overwhelmed after discussing his personal history. "I didn't realize how having a place of your own can stabilize you," Dale said.

According to a study conducted by the Wilder Research group, any given night there are on average 9,000 people that are homeless in Minnesota (80 percent of this figure in the Twin Cities). Nearly one third of them children, and over half are people of color. Participants in the "Day in the Life" program heard from representatives of several organizations devoted to lessening the impact of homelessness. Organizations visited included People Serving People, the Salvation Army, Access Works and Mary's Place. St. Steven's Human services and its employees and volunteers work hard to find employment opportunities, secure housing payments, prevent foreclosures and provide education for both homeless people and for those willing to learn about homelessness' realities.Despite the presence of such organizations, however, students learned that while there are people working hard, it is still not enough. Intolerance, prejudice and misinformation are still influential obstacles to effective legislation and awareness.

"The hardest part was learning about all the road blocks that the government has created. They are not allowed to stop and wait in many areas of the city and have to spend many hours of the day just walking as they wait for services to open," Pyan said.

The purpose of the "Day in the Life Program" is to give people a glimpse at what homelessness is really like, and more importantly, what homeless people are really like.

Students agreed that the experience was challenging. Dale began on Friday thinking that personal exposure to homelessness would encourage her to become more active. "I expected it to feel good, but facing such a reality isn't comfortable," she said.

Over the course of the program, time was also set aside for necessary personal reflection and conversation. As a result, many students left with a stronger appreciation of their own homes, as well as with a renewed consideration of the privileges they have been granted. "One of the most important lessons of the two days was really how blessed we are. We often complain about having no money or finding a job, but very few of us truly understand the struggles that these members of our community face each day," Pyan said.

More information can be found at www.ststephenscommunity.org.





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