Annual Homelessness Awareness Week starts Monday

Students attend a Homelessness Awareness Week event last year. The annual week features events aimed at educating students while finding solutions to homelessness. (Photo courtesy of Faizus Amin)

Undergraduate Student Government, Student Service Assembly and Share a Meal, among other organizations, are co-hosting the University’s annual Homelessness Awareness Week, which runs Nov. 12-15, to educate students on the prevalence of homelessness both on and off campus.

“We’re trying to balance awareness to action,” said Alec Vandenberg, director of external affairs for USG and president of Share a Meal. “Not only to get people educated, but also [to] give them concrete tools to make a difference now and in the future.”

The event starts Monday with a screening of “Invisible,” a documentary which depicts the struggles of low-income students, followed by a discussion with the film’s director, Justice Butler.

Homelessness Awareness Week is focusing its efforts on campus hunger and homelessness, according to Vandenberg.

“When we take into account factors such as the rising cost of college and tuition coupled with consistently skyrocketing rent, we know that it becomes harder and harder to be a low-income student, especially on this campus at a private university,” Vandenberg said.

On Tuesday, Swipe out Hunger, an organization that focuses on food insecurity and homelessness, will host a hunger banquet. Participants will be sorted into varying socioeconomic classes with the purpose of simulating the income disparity and consequences of homelessness in Los Angeles.

The week continues on Wednesday with a volunteer and resource fair, which provides students with concrete ways they can help out the USC and South L.A. community.

On Thursday, the Fast-A-Thon, during which students pledge to fast for the day, is intended to show students what it’s like to experience food insecurity. It also gives them an opportunity to sponsor a meal for the homeless through the Ansar Service Partnership.

The week ends with a public policy discussion titled “Getting Everyone in the Door,” where the Los Angeles Police Department, A Community of Friends and Abundant Housing representatives will discuss policy challenges toward ending homelessness.

“We’re going to be inviting different public policy stakeholders from around L.A. to come and speak about their work and also the perspectives that they have on homelessness in L.A.,” said Mae Gates, who will moderate the panel. “We hope to take that discussion and relate it back to certain issues and things that we see here on USC’s campus.”

Faizus Amin, the director of Campus Affairs for Student Service Assembly and moderator on the Swipe out Hunger panel, said engaging in Homelessness Awareness Week is an integral aspect of social responsibility in the South L.A. community.

“By having this week, we’re educating ourselves as students on what causes homelessness, what homeless life can be like for some people and how we can contribute to ending the cycle of homelessness, which is running rampant through Los Angeles,” Gates said.

Vandenberg said participation during Homelessness Awareness Week is a vital way students can help their community on campus.

“Sometimes we delude ourselves by thinking that because we’re at a private university and because we have such generous financial aid, that that somehow precludes us from having students [in] need who fall through a lot of those safety nets,” he said.

According to Vandenberg, It’s important to spread education and awareness about the consequences of homelessness continually, not just throughout the course of Homelessness Awareness Week.

“We’re really trying to make sure that homelessness and addressing it is very interdisciplinary,” Vandenberg said. “Regardless of your background, everyone can and should make a difference.”

Amin encouraged students to attend Homelessness Awareness Week events to learn about the nature of homelessness and to venture out beyond the USC community. 

“Through Hunger and Homelessness Week, we want students to realize that USC is definitely a bubble,” Amin said. “This is not the reality of South L.A. and we should do our part as a member of the South L.A. community and serve those around us.”

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