Students and other community members slept underneath the stars in the University Union Plaza Tuesday night as part of the 10th annual Homelessness Awareness Week.
Beyond Shelter, a Cal Poly program that works to help the local homeless population, is hosting the week of activities to benefit the Economic Opportunity Commission’s (EOC) Homeless Services program, which provides emergency shelter and other services.
“There are homeless (people) in our city, in our county, and not only are they homeless but they are working homeless,” Jared Gamm, Beyond Shelter co-director and biology sophomore. “It’s not just stereotypical crazy old Bob on the corner. It’s people that are just going under hard times . or have severe disabilities.”
One of the problems is that the area is so expensive, Gamm said. There are men who work 40 hours a week but are still homeless because they don’t qualify for assistance.
Currently, there are about 2,401 homeless people in the county, said Leah Meeks, Beyond Shelter co-director and bioresource and agricultural engineering senior.
Seven or more participants set up sleeping bags on the stage in the UU Plaza, which the UU Epicenter had cleared for the sleep-out.
The night’s low was at about 50 degrees, according to weather.com, which was a large improvement over 2006’s sleep-out.
“It rained a year ago, so this is beautiful,” Gamm said.
English and modern languages senior Emmanuel Gentinetta and Saint Mary’s College alumna Marisa Taborga, however, had an unexpected experience at the sleep-in. The two arrived at about 2:30 a.m. when the others were already asleep, Gentinetta said. They decided to sleep on a grassy patch between the plaza and South Perimeter Road and ended up sleeping-out later than the others did.
The next morning, two university police officers woke them up and asked them to slowly take their hands out of their sleeping bags, Gentinetta said.
The police officers asked the two if they had a home, and Gentinetta responded with “no” to continue the simulation of the sleep-out, he said. The police said in a “friendly but commanding” voice that no camping is permitted on campus.
Gentinetta told police about the sleep-in but he did not know what campus organization had hosted it, he said. The police soon left after Gentinetta and Taborga agreed to cooperate.
“I just wanted to sleep,” Gentinetta said.
Besides the wake-up call from the University Police Department and an automatic sprinkler that went off during the night, Taborga slept very well for a couple of hours, she said. Taborga had been homeless for a short time while in New York, and the sleep-in was a reminder of how “lucky we’re to have consistent comfort.”
The biggest event of the week will be the Walk to Fight Homelessness Saturday at Santa Rosa Park, located at the intersection of Santa Rosa and Oak streets. Participants will go through downtown for about an hour, Gamm said. He hopes 50 to 60 people will participate.
This walk will only be the beginning of the journey for retired teacher Dan Lyons, who will be starting a walk Saturday to Sacrament to raise money for the EOC.
“We’re hoping that this walk will allow people to know that we’re all part of the big picture and we’re all here in this together,” Lyons said.
Lyons has completed four coast-to-coast walks for organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and a homeless veterans’ counseling center, he said. His goal is to raise $5,000 through donations.
Lyons completes these for organizations that are close to his heart; he wanted to do something for the EOC because he and his wife used to feed homeless people in a park in Contra Costa County, he said. But in 2000, a drunk driver killed his wife when she was on her way back from a teachers’ conference.
There will also be a gallery at Farmers’ Market tonight, which will feature the artwork of homeless people who are staying at the overflow shelters hosted by local churches and the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter, Gamm said. The artwork focuses on homelessness and the artists’ personal situations.
“It’s just a cool way to represent the creativity of the homeless population,” he said
Beyond Shelter also hopes to have a resume workshop for the homeless before the end of the year.
Homeless people often feel incapable and the workshop will hopefully be a way to raise their self-esteem, said Jessica Sun, Beyond Shelter co-director and biomedical engineering junior.
Beyond Shelter is part of Student Community Services, which works to create social change and is located in UU room 217.
The EOC is located at 1030 Southwood Drive. Donations can be made in person or online at www.eocslo.org.