Sleep Out Southern simulated homelessness

Izzy Manzo Copy Editor

Homeless students have attended the university before, said counseling and school psychology Associate Professor Elizabeth “Libby” Rhoades, and it is possible they will be here again.

“They need a place to stay and they need food to eat,” she said, “and sometimes people trying to take care of their education have a tough time with that.”

Students participated in Sleep Out Southern last Friday, spending the night outside to raise awareness for homelessness. Rhoades said bringing awareness to campus was important because it is a prevalent issue.

She said while the event is involved, there are several people who sleep outside because they do not have a choice.

She also said the students who helped put together the event, and the School Counseling and Psychology program in general, have a long history of involvement with social justice issues.

Sleep Out Southern was led by a group of graduate students in the program, and is one of the bigger and more involved events happening during Social Justice Month.

“This [event] is particularly important to me,” Taylor Welch, a graduate student, said. “I’ve worked with the homeless before and served breakfast to the homeless, so it’s a topic that I’m really passionate about.”

Graduate student Mykelle Coleman had previously participated in sleep outs when she was a student at West Haven High School.

“We decided to do it to raise awareness, but also to get collections for the Columbus House in New Haven,” she said. “We did that twice…but there are others who go through that every day, so it also gave you awareness for being grateful but also that it’s time to lend a hand to those that need it.”

Coleman said homeless youth and college students are often overlooked, and it is important to raise awareness for them, as it is for other demographics.

“It’s an honor to do it again and do it here at Southern,” she said.

While he raises awareness through teaching social policy, social work Associte Professor Stephen Tomczak also believes in raising awareness by being active in the community.

He is on the board with the Community Action Agency, which is an anti-poverty agency in New Haven. Tomczak said while it does not deal with homelessness specifically, it deals with issues related to poverty and economic disparities, such as heating assistance and food pantries.

He believes that people have a duty to work towards a more just society.

“We as citizens of this world have an obligation if we’re advantaged at all to make sure that the world is a better place for those who aren’t as advantaged,” Tomczak said.

He said hopes staging “experimental activities” like Sleep Out Southern will give students a sense of what homeless people are going through in their lives.

“We do this for a short period of time—a night, a few hours, whatever it is,” he said. “But you always have to keep in mind that… in the real experience of homelessness, not only are you doing it this night, but the night after that and the night after that.”

Photo Credit: Palmer Piana


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