On Nov. 21, Eastern Michigan University held the first annual Campus Sleep Out located in front of the university's Department of Public Safety. The Campus Sleep-out was a part of the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week from Nov. 16 to Nov. 24 of 2019 sponsored by the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. The main focus of the Campus Sleep Out was to raise awareness among EMU students and the Ypsilanti community about homelessness.
Throughout the event, EMU students were able to listen to different guest speakers and enjoy snacks such as hot cocoa and chips. As the night progressed, students were able to interact with one another and even have the chance to experience being without shelter for one night. The Campus Sleep Out provided tents to participants.
EMU students Kirsten Seely and Chocolate Brooks are majoring in social work and helped organize the Campus Sleep Out. Both of them expressed the influence they hope the event has on EMU students and Washtenaw County as a whole.
“[The goal of this event is] to be able to make awareness for the homeless, especially in Washtenaw County, and make sure people understand the true meaning behind the homeless. [It's] not always the stereotype of the homeless sleeping outside: [there are] different ways people can be affected by homelessness,” Seely said.
“Also, we want people to be more open to prompt open discussions amongst each other,” Brooks added.
Stigma around homelessness is still present. According to AnnArborShelter.org, over 1,700 single adults experience homelessness in Washtenaw County.
“Housing is our main goal. I feel like we’re housing solution specialists. We help the hardest people to get a house. We help returning citizens, like people with disability, mental, physical illness.” said Sarah Paspal-Jasinski, guest speaker and Director of Development for the Ann Arbor Shelter. "Our whole goal is to house everyone .”
John Wilkerson, a guest speaker and EMU student majoring in social work, discussed his involvement with the Campus Sleep Out and his experience being homeless. As Wilkerson shared his experiences with being homeless, he was able to focus on positive aspects of life. One of Wilkerson’s goals is to graduate with a degree in social work and later help the veteran community. EMU Social workers Students have to complete over 400 hours for field placement. Wilkerson recounted when he was able to go back into the same homeless shelter he spent time in during his own homelessness.
“[It was] very surreal, going back into the place where I stayed,” said Wilkerson.
Wilkerson spoke on some of the stigmas surrounding homeless people.
“People look at [homeless people] like they’re bums, and they don’t want to work and lazy. [People] don’t realize maybe the reason the person might be homeless is that they have health issues and they couldn’t work.” Wilkerson said.
To learn more about the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, visit their website: annarborshelter.org