LANCASTER – What do you think it would be like to be homeless… to go all day with just a cup of soup for food, to spend the night outside, and to wake up the next morning in the same clothes? A group of students at Antelope Valley College sought to find out Monday. The group slept outside, overnight on campus, to gain first-hand experience into the lives of the homeless population.
The homeless camp simulation was part of Camp Coming Home, a fundraising effort by the Associated Students Organization to raise awareness and bring attention to the plight of the homeless and hungry.
“We wanted to try to get a sense of how they feel,” said participant Jennifer Seaman. “What it’s like to be homeless so we can connect with them in that way.”
“It’s not enough for me to just feel bad for them,” said Marianne Romero. “It’s for me to be in their shoes and know how it really feels.”
The 24-hour event began at noon on Monday and ended at noon on Tuesday.
To get a thorough homeless experience, participants were given only a cup of soup for the night, and requested not to use any personal electronic devices, such as cell phones, computers or Ipods. Attendees participated in several activities as part of Camp Coming Home. They made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be distributed at Grace Resources Center, solicited donations for the homeless from other students and faculty on campus, and watched the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.” But the highlight of the event was when participants formed a circle for a storytelling session, where students and faculty shared their experiences of being homeless or hungry.
“You could just feel the respect and the dignity in the circle, and the trust that it took for them to share their stories,” said participant Sandra Govin, ASO Student Trustee and Chair of the Pantry. “It’s kind of like being bare naked… a very vulnerable situation.”
A memorable point of the storytelling session was when AVC President Dr. Jackie Fisher shared that he, too, was once homeless.
“Dr. Fisher stated that when he graduated high school, his mom had passed and the next day he was homeless,” said ASO President Terrance Myers. “It inspired me because he went from being homeless to being the president of this college. It showed me that with some hard work, you could achieve whatever you set out to achieve.”
“To realize that he was once homeless… and looking at what he has achieved now, I think that’s great,” said Amanda Martinez.
Bill Bennett of Grace Resources Shelter gave the group advice on how to deal with homeless students on campus. He advised the group to encourage students who are in desperate situations to seek help and to not be ashamed of their situations. Students were asked to pledge to help someone in need going forward. For at least one participant, that chance to help came Monday afternoon.
Josue Romero said during the event, a student approached the group for help because he hadn’t eaten for two or three days.
“We took him to the pantry we set up here,” said Romero. “We gave him sandwiches to last him a couple of days and juice to wash it all down. It felt really good…That one thing has given me the energy to keep doing this.”
Camp Coming Home wrapped up at noon on Tuesday, however organizers say members of the community can still do their part to help students in need. Food or cash donations are accepted year round for the ASO Hearts and Hands Project. For more information, contact Dr. Jill Zimmerman at 661-722-6354.