The past 24 hours at my school have been all about homeless awareness. There were speakers, a lunch, a documentary, and musical acts. A few of us camped outside the student union for the night. To quote the friend I shared a tent with, it quickly became a contest to “out-humble each other.” If we had donut snacks, someone refused to eat until morning. If three of us squeezed into a tiny tent, someone slept on a bench. I think these guys missed the point, though. It was never about simulating homelessness. That would require gang violence, hostile cops, and exposure. It’s even a bit insulting to claim that what we did mimicked homelessness.
What we did was show solidarity. We tried to say, “Someone notices. Someone wants to help. Someone cares.” It didn’t change anything – not really. It only lasted a night. It could be argued us middle-class college kids did it to assuage our own guilt.
I don’t think so, though. Because for a few hours last night, a bunch of hipsters and geeks and activist wannabes gave a night to sitting in the cold and thinking about somebody else. It was a holy thing. We each made a decision, conscious or unconscious, that the least we could do was consider our neighbor. The homeless have been made invisible in this country, but worse, they’ve been made into subhumans. We climbed into our tents to show that it can be anyone; oily hair and dingy clothes do not take away the soul.
The homeless are not very different from us. Some are good people, some aren’t. They’re young, old, thin, fat, and every color. We can run them out of the parks and cut social services out of the budget, but that doesn’t make them disappear. They don’t need us to sleep on benches or go hungry for a night. They need their brothers and sisters to see them. So we put up tents where they had to be seen.
It may have been the best I’ve done in college.