Homelessness and privilege examined at annual Sleep Out
Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 21, 2011 17:11
The room was hushed, the lights dimmed and the tone serious. The only voice to be heard was senior Meredith Deacon's as she read the words of poet Rose Limongi: "I am living under bridges, in libraries, dumpsters and cars. I am an angel, a threat, a danger and a pitiful reminder of failure." The words echoed and lingered long after they had been spoken.
"I am me; humble and alone," read Deacon.
Luckily, I was anything but alone. It was Wednesday night, November 16, and rather than doing homework or watching T.V. in my dorm room, I was sitting in a makeshift circle in Hagan Hall surrounded by over 30 classmates, peers, friends and strangers; in this room no one was alone. We were taking part in Assumption College's third annual Sleep Out. This is an event that raises awareness about homelessness and gives students the opportunity to live like a homeless person, at least for a night.
In 2007, the National Alliance to End Homelessness named 15,127 Massachusetts citizens as homeless. Around 30 Assumption College students and staff members slept in one parking garage; in order to provide this form of "shelter" to all homeless Massachusetts citizens we would need over 750 parking garages. This staggering number has only continued to rise with the economic crisis, growing rate of unemployment and an increase of mortgage costs, proving the relevance and importance of providing information on homelessness.
The Sleep Out was run by Deacon and her team that consisted of seniors Ally Calovine, Kate Biegner, Leanna Hartnack and sophomore Will Rein. It was Deacon's hope to "leave our mark on [the Sleep Out] and hope to make it a staple at Assumption." Deacon explained the group united over their common desire to take a "very important cause and to make a difference." Deacon and the participants felt they had been successful in doing such.
The evening began with an opening prayer from Assumption's Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, Stephanie McCaffrey. The meal served was unadorned: chicken noodle or squash soup, rolls and water. The cutlery was plastic and the bowls paper. Its simplicity mimicked that of a soup kitchen and further encouraged us to maintain our roles as "homeless."
Following the meal, we participated in an activity called the privilege line. We began in a line, holding hands—all equal. However, we were quickly separated, our hands slipped apart as Deacon repeated instructions that created a division. "Step back if you've ever had a parent who was unemployed not by choice."
"Step forward if you received a weekly allowance."
"Step back if your parents were not born in the US…"
By the end of the activity we all stood in shock as we realized how unfair this was; uncontrollable circumstances should not affect our success as a person. That being said, the discussion of homelessness helped us to appreciate what we have—even if it is not a lot, and even if we were at the back of the privilege line. As sophomore Katerina Reilly said, "You don't have to own a Hybrid Lexus to be rich. Rich is a dynamic word." And she was right—it is all in perspective.
Originally the plan had been to sleep on Hagan Lawn, however, due to the rain, the location was moved to Assumption's overflow parking garage. This new location did protect from the rain and some wind, but it also offered up a wide new assortment of problems: the ground was harder, it stayed colder, and the fluorescent lights made it more difficult to sleep.