San Luis Obispo, despite being named the “Happiest City in America”, is not without problems. And one of the city’s most visible problems may be the most ignored.
Tuesday kicks off Homelessness Awareness Week: a Student Community Services-led week of events to raise awareness about the myths surrounding homelessness and the problems individuals who find themselves without homes in San Luis Obispo face.
According to the United Way of San Luis Obispo’s website, 3,744 people were homeless in San Luis Obispo as of January 2011. Of these, 1,847 were children.
Camille Crenshaw is a Student Committee Services (SCS) director coordinator and helped organize the week’s events.
“It’s a touchy subject, and it makes people uncomfortable,” Crenshaw said. “We see it frequently downtown, but so often it’s ignored and treated like it doesn’t exist. We’re trying to raise awareness about what causes people to be homeless, and break down those stereotypes.”
Homelessness Awareness Week kicks off with a Soup and Substance discussion Tuesday in University Union room 204. The event, called The Face of Homelessness, is a presentation and discussion led by a supervisor from the Independent Living Program. The program was designed to empower youth in the foster care system.
Crenshaw said the programs on Wednesday, a sleepover in the University Union, and Saturday, a Homelessness Awareness Walk and barbecue, were the ones she most hoped to highlight for students.
“For every attendee that sleeps over (on Wednesday), we’re donating $20 to ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization) on their behalf,” Crenshaw said. “By donating $20, individuals can have two meals and four nights of shelter.”
The El Camino Homeless Organization is a volunteer-run, non-profit shelter located in Atascadero. It offers meals, a place to sleep, hotels and vouchers for thrift stores, Crenshaw said.
Saturday’s walk will take place downtown with a barbecue alongside many of San Luis Obispo’s homeless citizens in Mitchell Park.
“They’re not homeless people, they’re people that are homeless,” Crenshaw said “We’re all humans together, and that’s why the barbecue is so important. We all get to hang out. Last year, I met someone who graduated from my high school the year before I did.”
Biological sciences freshman Natalie Chaidez received an email promoting the events of the week. Prior to receiving it, she said she didn’t know that homelessness in San Luis Obispo was a problem. She said she’d like to attend the sleepover in the University Union.
Homeless Awareness Week takes place between May 1 and 5. Other hosted events include a booth at downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market on Thursday and a breakfast and rèsumè workshop at the Prado Day Center on Friday. For a full list of events, visit the Student Life and Leadership website or the Facebook event page.
Mercedes Rodriguez contributed to this article.