Students ‘plunge’ into homelessness

By Susan Kantor

One group of students from Alternative Spring Break will be taking the “Urban Plunge” next week in Washington to learn firsthand about homelessness.

For 48 hours, 12 students will live on the streets of Washington D.C. with little more than the clothes on their backs to survive. They will sleep on the streets, beg for food and money, and experience what it really feels like to not have a home.

“We will go directly into the urban plunge, which consists of 48 hours of living on the streets,” said Ellen Schenk, site facilitator for the trip and sophomore in LAS. “We have a homeless guide at night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but besides that, we’re on our own on the streets.”

The group will split into teams of two to three during the day and six during the night. After the “Urban Plunge,” the group will work in a local soup kitchen. They will also lobby for the “Bring America Home Act,” which is designed to help end homelessness in the United States.

After the trip, the group will participate in service work in Champaign-Urbana. Options include volunteering at the Times Center and doing something to raise awareness about homelessness on the Quad said Amanda Clennon, external publicity chair for the program’s planning board, site facilitator for this trip and senior in LAS.

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“There was a lot of discussion about stereotypes, about urban poverty and homeless issues,” Schenk said. “I think it will definitely, without a doubt, open up everyone’s mind on the trip about the realities of the stereotypes and what it is really like to be homeless.”

The St. Jude Catholic Worker House, 317 S. Randolph St., is a refuge for the homeless in Champaign-Urbana. The Catholic Worker House can accommodate 12 women and children overnight and men are welcome to stay during the day. Meals are served everyday.

On Sundays, a volunteer group called Food Not Bombs cooks a meal for people who come to the Catholic Worker House. A local area homeless man who requested that his name not be used but goes by “Red Dog” was one of the visitors for the meal served at the house.

The man, 36, was evicted from his apartment last week because he was playing music too loud. He is currently staying at the Salvation Army and maintains his job working in construction.

“I don’t know what it is about this town,” he said. “We got one of the number one Universities in this country. I don’t see why the University is not giving back to the community – not building community bars here but community activities here for the age of people in the bracket of 25 to 45 that have been here and want to do something else besides drugs and alcohol.”

The trip to Washington will make the students more aware of the real issues of homelessness, Clennon said.

“I think the issue of homelessness is something that a lot of people are blind to, that it is always something nagging in the back of their heads,” Clennon said. “It is so easy to walk past the person asking for change. I feel that us doing this, we all will become hyper-aware of the issue and then hopefully we can pass that knowledge onto other people.”