That homeless person could be you

One way students can help homeless break the cycle by volunteering.

JBy Stephanie Archer
Guest columnist

just the other day, I was walking to work dressed in my North Face jacket, sipping my Starbucks coffee and thinking, “Gosh, I wish I didn’t have to go to work.” About half way across the Washington Avenue Bridge, I saw a homeless person sleeping, curled up on one of the benches inside the bridge with his bike beside him. I immediately changed my mind and realized how lucky I really am that I have a job, a home, a car and the opportunity to get a college education.

Here at the ‘U,’ most of us go about our day worried about where we should eat lunch, which hot spot we should go to on Friday night and complaining about our five-page papers due next week. When we pass a homeless person, we mostly react by feeling bad and thinking “There is nothing I can do,” but go on our merry way, or bluntly think, “What a lazy bum.”

In reality, as students, we are considered relatively close to being homeless. Most people do not realize that, without mommy and daddy’s support and money and student loans, most of us would be homeless. Students need to be proactive and lessen the barrier between the homeless and students, because, in the end, we are not that different. Whether it is giving your hot coffee to the homeless person on the Washington Avenue Bridge or volunteering in a homeless shelter, students can make a difference in many lives.

When I first moved to the Twin Cities, I knew of the homeless, but not about them. I would see homeless people on street corners, shake my head and think “Lazy Ö the only thing they would do with my money is buy drugs or alcohol.” My opinions did not change overnight. Recently, I have learned about the actual statistics of homelessness and how hard it is to break the continuous cycle after becoming homeless. Once people lose resources, such as a home address, phone number or family support, they have an extremely hard time getting back to “normal.” Now that I am aware, I can look at a homeless person and recognize that something positive needs to be done to help these people.

It is estimated that on any given night, approximately 21,000 people in Minnesota are homeless or insecurely housed. Most homeless have at least two of the following characteristics: lost employment, mental illness, chemical dependency, abusive childhood or criminal background. These are not simply a result of bad choices, they are issues that affect every person. We all know someone that has inconveniently lost a job, has a mental illness or physical disability, has a chemical dependency problem, has problems at home or simply had one too many drinks and received a DUI.

Whether the reason for homeless lies in the result of bad choices or things that happened inconveniently, the homeless deserve the chance to get back on their feet. As students, we need to reach out and make a difference.

One way students can help the homeless break the cycle is by volunteering. Project Homeless Connect is a one-stop-shop model for delivering services to people experiencing homelessness. Twice a year, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis partner with service providers, businesses, citizens and faith communities to bring multiple resources to one location where people can come and find the services they need. These services include housing, employment, medical care, mental health care, benefits and legal assistance, eye doctors, haircuts, transportation assistance, food and clothing. These are extremely successful events and actively help people get the positive attention they need. The next event is set for Dec. 4 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Helping out would be a perfect way to show that you care. More information about this one-day event can be found at www.projecthomelessminnespolis.org.

This is an important issue and students should recognize that the homeless need our help – not to just give money to them directly, but to help out in ways that will help them break their cycle of homelessness. Please go out and get involved!

Stephanie Archer is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]