Shantytown is not helping anyone understand

Want to help homeless people? How about saying hello to one homeless person?

This week on campus I was struck by the ridiculous proposition by homeless persons’ advocates to spend the night sleeping outside on the Washington Ave Bridge. They call this event “Shantytown.”

I was impeded as I walked to class by a student with flyers who asked me, “Want a taste of what it’s like to be homeless?”

“No,” I told him, as homelessness would surely be an awful experience. The problem is, Shantytown is not offering students a taste of being homeless. What they are doing is more like a taste of camping, which can actually be quite lovely this time of year.

To understand homelessness would be something much greater. To get a taste of homelessness, one needs to experience defeat in the ultimate sense. The homeless person has dealt with a lot more in his or her time than the struggles of simply being outdoors. The homeless adult (who, presumably, at one time, had a residence) has, perhaps with exceptions, made very poor choices and paid for them dearly.

They’ve seen their materials repossessed or had to sell them off. They don’t know where their next meal will come from. They have seen their life ruined, likely due to their own actions and inactions. The homeless are not to be condemned, as each of them on the street undoubtedly has a story to tell that is tragic as can be.

Above it all, they have nobody. No family to take them in or connections to help them find a job. No friends to offer them a meal or a place to stay.

The homeless person knows a feeling of loss that likely none of the students camping out for Shantytown do: a feeling of having no one who cares to help.

So how do we help with the homeless problem at the University of Minnesota?

We have a ton of kids sleep outside for one night, because being outside at night is the hardest part about homelessness, right?

Give me a break.

Want to help homeless people? How about saying hello to one homeless person? How about getting to know them? How about offering your friendship or advice? How about checking them into rehab or sponsoring them? How about introducing them to someone with the resources to employ them? Any of those would help, and you wouldn’t even have to spend the whole night out in the cold.

Ben Drewelow is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]