As you sit and read a newspaper, someone may be using it as a blanket on a sidewalk bench during a cold autumn night. People live with homelessness and poverty in their lives every day, and Keene State has dedicated an entire week to educate students about it.
Nov. 14 through the17 was Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at KSC. The Community Service Office and Habitat for Humanity held an event each day to bring awareness to the KSC campus.
On Monday, members of the Community Service Office and Habitat for Humanity did a chalk down Appian Way. National, global and local facts about hunger and homelessness were written on the ground for students to see as they walked to class.
Community Service Coordinator Jessica Gagne Cloutier said they get their facts from Feeding America and the Homeless Coalition.
Tuesday was the poverty simulation. “The entire idea is to sensitize people to the realities of living in chronic poverty,” Gagne Cloutier said. She explained that participants were given a card with their identity: name, age, parent or child, job or no job. Each participant was assigned to a family unit. Some identities included a family of five, all the way to a single senior. An example of a “family” is three children, one an infant being raised by their 21-year-old sibling. The participants were challenged with having to strive and thrive during a month of poverty broken up by four 15-minute intervals, each representing one week.
There were different tables scattered around the room, each portraying an important part of living: a bank, mortgage company, jail, grocery store, child day care center, a faith-based center, school and even a pawn shop. If a family decided to pawn off an item for money, the pawn shop was only allowed to offer them a quarter of what the item was actually worth, according to Gagne Cloutier.
Depending on which family scenario they received, participants might have worked or been enrolled at school, or trying to find a job or access government services.
“The goal is to pay your bills, feed, clothe and house your family and get through the month,” Gagne Cloutier said. She said the participants did well, but some struggled. Gagne Cloutier said a couple people forgot to go to the grocery store their first two weeks. One even forgot to pick her child up from daycare too often and her child was taken into protective custody. Gagne Cloutier said each “family” was designed off real-life case studies of individuals living in poverty.
This simulation consisted of 30 participants and 15 volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, the Community Service Office and community members.
“Even from the volunteer perspective, it kind of puts you in that perspective to think about people as people and not just numbers and statistics. It’s challenging from both sides, to be as compassionate as you can and to live and play your role within the rules that are set for you and try to find that wiggle room [to survive],” Gagne Cloutier said.
On Wednesday, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were made by students and community members in the Atrium Conference Room. The PB&J’s were donated to Hundred Nights’ Community Resource room because the night shelter has not opened yet,” Gagne Cloutier said.
The Hunger Banquet was held on Thursday in the Mountain View Room in the student center. In this simulation, each participant was assigned to either lower, middle or upper class. Everyone was given a character with a background to get a feel for who they were for the night. This year’s dinner was inspired by Puerto Rican and Dominican meals. The lower class had to sit on the floor and were only allowed to eat rice and scrambled eggs. The middle class ate mangu (mashed plantains), scrambled eggs, salami and passion fruit juice. The upper class ate rice with beans, chicken, potato salad and a dessert. About 80 percent of the people were lower class, to represent today’s statistics.
KSC sophomore Ashley Betancourt, who coordinates events through the community service office, explained that one scenario in the simulation involved two people who grew up at the same time and in the same place, but had completely different lives. One had to stop attending school after eighth grade because of financial issues and the other had the option to travel for a year before attending medical school.
“It was cool to see people’s faces while we were reading and they realized that this is real and it really happens,” Betancourt said. “It’s nice to get [participants] in an uncomfortable situation so they can realize that hunger and homelessness happens right here in the United States.”
KSC Junior and participant of the banquet Lynne Carrion said the event was “eye opening.”
“I never realized how many people actually go hungry in the United States alone. It helped me learn a lot about different people’s situations and what it’s really like for people who don’t have the opportunity to have a nutritious meal everyday,” Carrion stated.
She said participating in the banquet helped her “see things in a different perspective.”
“So many people don’t value what they have and how lucky they are to be where they are,” Carrion stated, “People don’t really get a chance to see things from other perspectives very often. It really made you reflect on yourself and your eating habits.”
Betancourt said events like these “bring awareness” so that people can understand that people live in these situations right around the corner. “It’s a real issue,” she said.
“I think we live in a place where it’s a little easier for hunger and homelessness to be invisible because we have so many resources. When you look at statistics of people living in homelessness around the state, they are predominantly really low numbers because it’s the number of people who are living, in a point in time, in a shelter or outside. It’s not counting people who may be living in their car or couch surfing,” Gagne Cloutier said.
“It’s important to have an opportunity to learn about these issues and to learn about the ways to take action and to think about the role we all play in lifting each other up and helping each other thrive,” Gagne Cloutier said. “I think it exposes us and challenges us to think critically about the luxuries we have and how we can share those and make sure those things are equitably distributed.”
MacKenzie Clarke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org