On Wednesday, January 28th, the Residence Hall Association in collaboration with Phi Beta Sigma fraternity hosted its fourth annual Sleep Out for the Homeless event in the TMB Auditorium. Sleep Out for the Homeless is an event designed to raise awareness for the homeless population in Northeast Alabama.
Donovan Wilson, a Junior majoring in business management, serves as the vice president of Phi Beta Sigma as well as the coordinator of this year’s Sleep out for the Homeless event.
“Words cannot express how serious this issue is,” Wilson said. “This year [Phi Beta Sigma] and the Residence Hall Association actually participated in the count. And we get some materials together; we donate, and then we have this event that serves to educate everyone on the importance of it.”
Every January, the Point-in-Time survey is taken by volunteers in communities nationwide to identify the homeless and gauge their needs. In 2013, 31 JSU students and faculty participated in the Point-in-Time survey and successfully identified 399 homeless men and women in the Anniston and Gadsden areas, but several factors led participants to believe that there were more they failed to speak to. Minors living on the street and those who did not speak English, for instance, were not included in the survey.
“Homelessness is equal opportunity,” said Dr. Nancy Francisco Stewart, an Associate Professor of Social Work at JSU and the speaker for the evening. “Race isn’t a factor. It’s not a stereotype about drugs; it’s not a stereotype about race. It’s not the old ugly guy. It could happen to any one of us.”
75% of the homeless identified by the group were unsheltered, sleeping in streets and alleys at night, and roughly 25% were considered “chronically homeless,” meaning they had experienced homelessness three or more times in the past two years.
Fortunately, the issue of homelessness has been improving over the last few years. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness on the national level decreased by 3.7% from 2012 to 2013. Alabama was one of 31 states that saw a reduction in homelessness, dropping nearly 10% that same year.
In 2014, the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that 578, 424 people experienced homelessness in the United States, a decrease from the over 600,000 identified the previous year. 15% of these people qualified as chronically homeless, and 9% were military veterans.
This Spring, the Residence Hall Association will be sponsoring a goods drive and accepting donations of gently worn clothing and other materials that will be distributed to shelters or directly to those who need it.
“The goal is to raise awareness and get students thinking about solutions that they could contribute,” Stewart said. “We need to have safe housing for all.”