Students should understand issues affecting D.C. and find one to support

While walking from class to your residence hall, it can be easy to not think twice about the person you just passed on the street who does not have a home to return to like you do.

Last week, a homeless encampment on E Street was removed. The encampment was cleared because of health concerns regarding the camp’s residents and surrounding neighbors, according to the Office for the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. For those residing in the encampment, that place was home. The clearing of the encampment not only affects them because their homes were taken away, leaving them with nowhere else to go, but additionally, some felt misinformed about the clearing process.

Removing this encampment is a reminder of one of the major problems that affect the Foggy Bottom and the overall D.C. community: homelessness. Not all students will feel strongly about issues affecting our immediate and larger community. Nevertheless, students should not be turning a blind eye to what’s happening right in front of them. Instead, they should educate themselves on the issues affecting their city and the community where they live. Learning about these issues should inspire students to find a cause where they can make an impact.

The important thing to remember is that Foggy Bottom is more than GW’s campus, and D.C. is more than Foggy Bottom.

Because we live in D.C., which has more than 7,000 homeless people on any given night and a 39-year average wait for public housing, students should familiarize themselves with the dynamic of the city and the problems it faces. Seeing this encampment and people being forced out of their homes should not only force students to understand homelessness in the community, but also inspire them to support a cause they care about. There are many causes that we could be supporting right here on campus, ranging from helping the homeless to advocating for a environmentally friendly community.

It is likely that if we went to a different school not in the city, there would not be a similar standard or an expectation to get involved in the community. But the University is integrated into the city and Foggy Bottom. Students can make the most of their time here by finding a cause to champion in the D.C. community.

One such cause can be homelessness. There are some students on campus that are already trying to assist homeless communities in need. Sophomore Aaron Snyder, the co-president of People in Crisis, the D.C. chapter of a New Jersey-based group that assists communities in need, spent the last year working with the E Street encampment residents to lower their medication costs. Along with Snyder, People in Crisis and members of the Jewish Student Association spoke to the mayor’s office to ensure displaced people at least have a temporary place to live.

Their work should certainly be commended, but the efforts don’t have to – and shouldn’t – stop there. One student voice might be heard, but coming together can make more of a difference. Students who are passionate about this cause should go out and do something about it by joining efforts like this, instead of sitting back.

Students looking to help the homelessness won’t have to look far either. More than 500 colleges will participate in Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which is hosted on campus by the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service and the Human Services program. There will be events hosted by GW and other community service events across the city to increase awareness and work to help the hungry and people experiencing homelessness. Student organizations can also work alongside other D.C. area schools to help the community, which can increase the scale of efforts to help while also increasing community engagement.

Nothing can get done if students do not show compassion and at least make an effort to take small steps to improve the community around them.

Some students may certainly sympathize with the homeless but have another cause they feel more passionate about. And that’s OK – but every student can find an issue they feel strongly about that does not directly affect them, and every student can do this by first learning about what is happening in their community. The important thing to remember is that Foggy Bottom is more than GW’s campus, and D.C. is more than Foggy Bottom. Students shouldn’t go through their four years on campus blind to their surroundings.

We acknowledge that problems that plague D.C. like homelessness are large, complex issues. They will not be solved overnight by students, nor will throwing money at them make them disappear. At the same time, nothing can get done if students do not show compassion and at least make an effort to take small steps to improve the community around them.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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