With more than 13,000 people in Georgia classified as homeless in 2015, the number of individuals and families on the street continues to decline. But the mission to end homelessness and hunger among vulnerable populations continues to be a priority for lawmakers, public policy advocates and nonprofits.
Clayton State University’s Department of Campus Life has taken steps to bring awareness to the issue and partnered with AmeriCorps for the third year in a row to host the annual Hunger Banquet and Homelessness Sleep out on Nov. 18.
“We hope it’s an eye-opening experience,” said Jennifer Welch, AmeriCorps Program Coordinator at Clayton State.
More than a hundred students—from both Clayton State and area high schools—experienced first-hand what it means to be hungry and homeless in different parts of the world.
Campus Life has held a banquet and sleep out since 2009. AmeriCorps, a federal agency that places thousands of people in the community to do intensive service, has the lead the event for the last three years.
Welch said the banquet was modeled after Oxfam International’s global hunger meal program.
During the banquet, each student was given a ticket that indicated whether they were low, middle or high income. Welch explained that low income represented a third world country, middle equated to a developing nation and high signified a developed nation like the United States.
Those with low income tickets could choose between a cup of rice or a cup of water and had to sit on the floor. Those in the middle were given rice, beans, water and could sit on a chair. Students who were designated high income were served a lavish spaghetti dinner complete with sweet tea and wait service, while they sat at a fully decorated table.
For the sleep out portion of the evening, a car, tent, box and shelter scenarios were recreated to help students understand the various ways the homeless cope with not having a physical dwelling. Students visited each scenario and completed challenges to earn fake money to purchase items like a mat, sleeping bag or food for the outside sleep out late Friday night.
Speakers from local nonprofits, including Calvary Refuge shelter, shared data on homelessness and hunger in Atlanta and offered resources where students could help.
Friday evening not only put into perspective the issue of hunger and homelessness, but it also reminded many students that people’s lives can change in an instant.
“It really makes you more appreciative of what you do have,” said Ashley Kekula, a senior and three-year member of AmeriCorps. She volunteers at Forest Park High School for the nonprofit. “You really don’t know what happened to get [homeless people] to where they are now.”
Homelessness on campus
Welch said the issue of hunger and homelessness does reach the Clayton State campus.
Several students each year are referred or seek out resources from the department of Campus Life. And at least 1 or 2 students attend the banquet and sleep out to share their personal experience with homelessness, Welch said.
Back in 2011, Campus Life teamed up with Alpha Phi Omega fraternity and the Counseling and Psychological Services to establish the Laker Care Closet to provide food and clothing to students to meet their basic needs.
Currently, a cross-campus committee is in its early stages of development to address hunger issues affecting the University’s student body.