Students reflect on homelessness

By Alex Westman
Staff Writer

As Thanksgiving rolls around and students prepare to feast and relax at home with their families, students on campus are hoping to remind the community that not everyone in this country is so fortunate. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2018, Vermont has an estimated 1,291 people experiencing homelessness on any given day.

“We’re all cold walking to class in our super puffy coats,” said Martha Phelps ‘20, one of the core leaders of the Family Friends program, “There’s people out there who don’t have that option.”

The programs that the government provides – that still is not enough.

Fr. Lino, campus minister, MOVE coordinator

Since her first year at St. Michael’s, Phelps and co-core leader Sarah Merriam ‘20 have been volunteering with Family Friends at one of the homeless shelters in Burlington run by COTS, or Committee on Temporary Shelter.

Family Friends brings students to one of the shelters every week to do arts and crafts with the kids staying there. Merriam said COTS provides more than just a roof over your head. “They go out and help people find housing and find jobs.” Merriam said, “They also have a lot of services to help you through evictions.”

“They offer financial stability, budgeting, and all types of workshops right in their shelter to get people back on their feet and into stable housing.”

Phelps said, “The goal is to have them in the shelter for six months, and once those six months are up, they have the knowledge they need and the support they need.”

There’s always a chance to volunteer with Family Friends, but around this time many groups on campus are trying to get students to think about homelessness and hunger by hosting events or activities.

Fr. Lino Oropeza, a campus minister, and International MOVE (Or Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts) Coordinator said, “Even though the United States is what we call the first world, and even though people have certain benefits and certain privileges, there’s still a lot of people that are having a rough time. They may not know where their next meal is gonna come from,” Fr Lino organizes programming at St. Michael’s to help raise this consciousness among the student body. “The programs that the government provides – that still is not enough. Or it is just enough.”

This year programming will run Monday, Nov. 18 through Sunday, Nov. 24 to encourage students to reflect and appreciate their three meals a day. On Tuesday, anyone can stop by Alliot to participate in the Hunger Challenge.

“We’re gonna price the food in Alliot. We’re gonna give them $5.22, which is what a person has on food stamps.” Fr. Lino said, “The idea is: with $5.22, what will you do? How much food can you get?” On Wednesday, just before the Thanksgiving meal in Alliot, there will be a 24 hour fast. Students just need to not eat anything during the day, and MOVE will end the fast on Thursday with a reflection.

On Friday, the Civil Rights Alliance on campus is holding the Food Stamp Challenge. “We’re gonna ask people for a week to try and only eat food that people that are on food stamps can eat.” Fr. Lino said.

There are also options beyond the programming that only occurs during this week. Tiana Dunne, ’20, leads FEED, a program on campus that takes students to the Williston Community Food Shelf to volunteer each week. In the past, they have also gone to Chapin Orchard to glean or reclaim food that would otherwise be thrown out.

“A lot of people think it’s going to be boring and negative or sad, but in reality it’s rewarding and people will talk to you and share their experiences with you and appreciate you. They just want somebody to listen to them,” she said.