GW works to help local homeless

GW and other universities around the country participated last week in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, an annual event held the week before Thanksgiving to educate students about the problems that plague Americans who have nowhere to live and nothing to eat.

The goal of the program is to mobilize students to take action. Each year, GW students are brought together by the Office of Community Service to create events that will show the human side of homelessness, said Jennifer Olson, GW’s homelessness fellow.

“We need to make people realize that these are real people, not just statistics,” Olson said.

Awareness week kicked off Nov. 11 with a panel of homeless veterans from southeast D.C. who spoke to students about the battles they overcame living on the streets. A slide presentation that preceded the panel showed students that homelessness can strike anyone of any race at any age, organizers said.

“We wanted to give students background about the problem of homelessness,” Olson said. “But then we wanted to enable them to do something about it, not just internalize the information.”

Olson has worked with a core group of students from the Office of Community Service to bring the week’s events to GW. Sarah Fischer is a member of the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Committee that helped plan this week’s programming. She said the committee tried to plan something for each day of the week to spark as much student involvement as possible.

“We set up a perishable food drive and there is a letter-writing campaign, but our biggest goal of the week was to get as many teams as possible registered for the walk on Saturday,” she said.

The 5K Walkathon is sponsored by GW and the Fannie Mae, which promised to donate $500 per team to a service organization of the team’s choice.

“So far, there are 26 teams registered from GW, which can really make a difference,” Fischer said.

Amiko Matsumoto, director of the Office of Community Service, said GW teams have raised at least $13,000 for charitable organizations.

One of the highlights of the week’s programs was a poetry reading by Miriam’s Poets Tuesday night in Strong Hall. An extension of the breakfast program at Miriam’s Kitchen, the group of poets meets weekly to learn to use words as a “release from the emotional trauma of being homeless,” Olson said.

Another similar program this month is Miriam’s Artists, which has made it possible for the artistic work of the homeless to be displayed on the third floor of the Marvin Center.

“The people of Miriam’s Kitchen have a close relationship with GW, not only because it is so close to campus but because our community is so open,” Olson said.

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