Discovering my Community

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I have lived in Urbana since I was six
years old. However, I never understood
the homeless situation in Urbana-Champaign.
My journey began with my decision
to spend this past summer volunteering
locally in my hometown.
Although I had done service trips across
the US, I had never taken the time to volunteer in my own
community. One day while volunteering at the Catholic
Worker House, I spoke with a woman who told me that
the Catholic Worker House, Center for Women in Transition,
and a Women’s Place were all full, so she was sleeping
on the streets, while waiting for one of these three shelters
to open up. This surprised me. I had always assumed the
wealth and influence of the University of Illinois would
enable there to be enough shelters in Urbana-Champaign.
This semester, I took a course taught by Abby Harmon,
FAA 391, in which we learned about the homeless situation
in Urbana-Champaign, as well as how to go about taking
social action. During one of our classes, we had a group
of Safe Haven community members come in and speak
with us. Some of the issues we discussed included what it is
like to be homeless on the UIUC campus, barriers to finding
shelter, jobs, housing, how they lost their homes or
jobs, and their interactions with community members.
The Safe Haven members talked about how if they walk
on to campus property, they immediately get kicked off.
Due to the increasing number of ‘No Trespassing’ signs,
police make homeless people move from place to place. It
was brought up that over the past winter, two people died
of exposure. The Safe Haven members mentioned the
need for being able to socialize with other community
members, as opposed to just being viewed as ‘homeless.’
This conversation showed me the importance of having
an open dialogue. While volunteering at Catholic Worker
House, I had interacted with Safe Haven community
members. However, in that situation, I was perceived as a
volunteer with a certain agenda. I learned so much more
through having an open, frank conversation with members
of Safe Haven.
After this conversation, I realized not only how little do
UIUC students know of the poverty and homelessness in
Urbana-Champaign, but also often how apathetic they are.
Due to policies such as the police kicking homeless people
off of the campus, many students are unaware of there even
being poverty or homelessness in Urbana-Champaign.
As a result, for my final project for FAA 391, I will be
working with one of my classmates, Vicky Brown, to hold an
open forum between Safe Haven community members and
University of Illinois students. This would be a way for University
of Illinois students to become more aware of their
community and hear firsthand accounts of what it is like to
be homeless on this campus. This would give Safe Haven
members a chance to share their experiences and perspectives
with the campus community as well as to ask University
of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students’ questions. The social
change we hope to bring about through this forum is to
increase awareness and interaction between two different
groups of community members. The long-term goal of this
project is increased awareness on the part of University of Illinois
students of the Urbana-Champaign community. Hopefully
this increased awareness not only will show them in
what areas social change needs to be done, but will also
encourages them to go out and make social change.

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