BERGER: No cutting corners
Students at the University must help fight the homelessness in Charlottesville
Anyone who regularly walks by the Corner has at one point or another encountered the homeless men and women sitting beneath the railroad tracks or outside stores. The problem of homelessness is very real here in Charlottesville and while it may seem hopeless, there are ways in which we can help.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced back in June a 16 percent drop in overall homelessness statewide, yet the city of Charlottesville is still struggling with homelessness. This problem needs to be solved. However, it cannot be solved if students continue to avoid it. Many students ignore the homeless population here. I’ve witnessed students purposely avoid eye contact with the men and women begging on the Corner. I have even seen students go so far as to cut through the back of the Corner to avoid the section under the railroad tracks where many of the homeless people are.
I understand that it can be saddening to see people in dirty clothes sitting on the sidewalk, and I understand how bad we feel as privileged students to not always have money on us to give to them. But is avoiding eye contact really going to help? These men and women are people just like us; they have real feelings, and though you may not be able to give them the dollar they are asking you for, just giving them a smile or acknowledging them is free and will be kinder than ignoring them altogether.
Other ways students can help out are by contributing to charities and programs that fight homelessness. Just last week the University hosted an event called Sleepout for the Homeless, which is a fundraiser to fight homelessness in Charlottesville. For two nights, participants slept outside in tents in the Amphitheater and received sponsorships from their friends and families, all of which went directly to a local homelessness organization. This event has been at the University for eight years now and has cumulatively raised more than $25,000 to support organizations that provide services for the homeless population of the Charlottesville area. This year, the organization was The Crossings, which is a community for homeless and low-income people, and a regional solution to homelessness.
The city of Charlottesville itself is making some progress toward diminishing the number of those living on the streets. For example, a new program called People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, or PACEM, is applying a concept called “rapid rehousing.” While The Crossings offers support services to the residents to improve their health and incomes, PACEM helps residents pay their security deposits and rent, and has received $30,000 in funding from the state to do so. These programs have been successful thus far, and many people now have their own homes, but we can add to the effort.
Donating to charities like The Crossings is a great way to help out the extremely poverty-stricken members of the Charlottesville community. We can also help by spreading awareness about homelessness and discovering opportunities to help the homeless in our community. We, as students, can make a difference in the community and it is time we work proactively to find solutions to the problem of homelessness here in Charlottesville.