‘Solidarity’ with the homeless

Campus Ministry held the newly christened Night of Solidarity with the Homeless last week as part of November’s Hunger Awareness Month.

Although students were originally scheduled to sleep on the Great Lawn outside of St. Thomas More Church from 8 p.m Nov. 9 to 8 a.m. Nov. 10, rain pushed the participants indoors.

In past years, the Night of Solidarity had been referred to as the Sleepout for the Homeless.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, approximately 36,200 homeless men, women and children were in the New York City shelter system as of Feb. 2005. Thousands more were sleeping on city streets, park benches and subway trains, according to the Coalition.

The Night of Solidarity was meant to show support and compassion for the homeless citizens of New York City and give the participants “a glimpse of what it means to be homeless and living on the streets,” according to Campus Ministry.

An estimated 40 people camped out on the church floor for the night, with some students venturing out into the cold to spend the night outside.

“Our goal was that people, when they go into the city, they could see a person [and] to remind people that the homeless are human beings,” said Lauren Reiss who organized the event.

Freshman Hannah Spencer, one of the few students who attempted to sleep outdoors, felt that the experience taught her a great deal about the plight of the homeless.

“Sleeping outside on the ground really opened my eyes to what homeless people go through every night,” Spencer said. “The night we slept outside was especially cold and I ended up moving into the church’s atrium around three.”

Freshman theology major Andrew Conti agreed, stating that the experience was an educational one.

“It was a good experience to gain compassion for homeless people,” Conti said. “I definitely walked away with more than I was expecting.”

Students received minimal food at the start of the event to allow them to see what it is like for New York’s homeless population to have to eat in a real soup kitchen.

Following the mock soup kitchen was a presentation from Billy Preston, a former homeless man who is now on the executive board of Midnight Run, an organization that provides meals for the homeless. The meals are made and delivered by college students, including those at St. John’s.

Preston related his personal experiences of living on the streets, explaining why it is important for people to have empathy for the homeless and to help them in any way possible.

At the end of the program, breakfast was provided for all those who attended, and the event concluded with an 8 a.m. Mass the morning of Nov. 10.

Hunger Awareness Month aims to increase public recognition of not only the homeless, but all those in need who do not have adequate food.

Upcoming events in the month include the “Fridays in the Kitchen” program every Friday at St. John the Baptist Soup Kitchen, two excursions with Habitat for Humanity, the annual “Hunger Banquet” on Nov. 22, and various Midnight Runs scheduled throughout the month.

“I kept thinking about how the elderly people who are homeless must suffer,” Spencer said of her thoughts during the sleepout. “The sleep-out gave me a deeper understanding of homelessness.”