Humanizing Poverty, Food Insecurity Key to Homelessness Awareness Week

Students planning Hunger and Homelessness Week want to put a personal voice behind what is often treated as a political issue.

Street Sense
Directors, writers and performers of Street Sense will transform Shakespeare’s play, Timon of Athens, at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Union Chapel as part of 2016 Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. (William Atkins/GW Today)
November 14, 2016

While one in seven Americans live in poverty, it’s easy for many people to ignore the struggles of homelessness and food insecurity. During a time of the year when people are looking to give back, George Washington University students are seizing on the opportunity to spread awareness.

Monday is the start of GW Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, an annual event that seeks to promote education and understanding around homelessness and poverty. Members of the GW community are invited to participate in several events throughout the week aimed at raising awareness and collecting durable goods for those in poverty.

Forty-four million people in the United States live in poverty, and they are closer to home than some might think, said Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.

“There are homeless people struggling with homelessness and food insecurity in our midst, on our campuses, in Foggy Bottom and throughout Washington, D.C,” he said. “Many GW students struggle with these issues, as do many others around us.”

The week is organized by students in Dr. Konwerski’s “Organizing for Social Justice in Human Services” class in the Human Services and Social Justice program, with the support of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. This year events will focus on breaking down the stigma surrounding food stamps and a new feminine hygiene drive in partnership with the Virginia-based nonprofit Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters (BRAWS). Students will be able to donate items like tampons and pads in their residence halls, along with soap, shampoo and cold weather clothing.

Students also are going to present the stories of Foggy Bottom’s homeless population as part of a Humans of New York-style campaign that will show images and quotes from those experiencing poverty. The campaign seeks to humanize a population often overlooked by exploring their memories and advice for students.

“No matter what your life is like, you could end up on the street,” said Helen Palatianos, a sophomore majoring in human services and social justice. “No matter how many careful plans or savings accounts you have, you never know what's going to happen. Homelessness is something that any one of us could experience, and it is something many of our neighbors are experiencing today.”

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week gives students a starting place to consider issues surrounding poverty and to think about how they can incorporate service into their lives.

“This week will not solve the overarching and systemic issues that lead to hunger and homelessness in our city, but it will create a platform for GW students to learn about, serve and connect with the issue in a way that they may not otherwise have an opportunity to,” said senior majoring in human services and social justice Sara Policastro. “Starting a conversation about the issues of hunger and homelessness with our student body may be a first step toward mobilizing for social change.”

Use the hashtags #GWHungerWeek16 or #KnowYourNeighbor on Twitter to keep up with students spreading awareness around campus. Below is a full list of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week events:

Hygiene Drive
Nov. 4 – Nov. 18
GW will collect feminine hygiene products for women experiencing homelessness. Look for donation boxes in residence halls starting Nov. 4

Timone of DC
Nov. 14
7 p.m., Building XX, Union Chapel at 814 20th St., NW, second floor
With GW Department of Theatre and Dance, the directors, writer and performers of Street Sense will transform William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens into a contemporary exploration into giving and receiving. Timone of DC gives away all worldly possessions indiscriminately and only then he learns how to truly help another person. This free event is sponsored by the Faculty Senate Committee on the University and Urban Affairs.

Hunger Banquet
Nov. 15
7:30 p.m., Marvin Center, Room 309
Participants will be divided into one of three main income groups and experience a meal from that perspective as part of an interactive experience that will bring issues of poverty and hunger to life. Tickets are $10.

Taste of Foodstamps video
Nov. 15
GW Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week has partnered with the Capital Area Food Bank to address the stigma about living on food stamps. The video will demonstrate how to make nutritious meals off food stamps and provide education about the program.

Neighbors Of GW
Nov. 14 - 18
In partnership with Humans of GW, each day during GW Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week students will share one story about individuals in the Foggy Bottom community experiencing homelessness as part of a partnership with Humans of GW. Stories will be posted around campus on posters and shared on social media platforms to help students learn to #KnowYourNeighbor.

Community Cove
Nov. 16
5pm p.m., Mid-Campus Quad, 2130 H St., NW
Members of the GW community can participate in an open-mic performance of poetry readings, dance and acapella singing. Attendees are encouraged to bring winter clothes to donate such as hats, gloves and socks that will help keep the homeless in Foggy Bottom warm this winter.

Panel Event
Nov. 17
7 p.m., Marvin Center, Grand Ballroom
Join a discussion with BRAWS Executive Director and Founder Holly Seibold and NEW’s Executive Director Wanda Steptoe and learn about the importance of providing hygiene products to those in need.

Purple Out
Nov. 18
Show your support and raise awareness of hunger, homelessness and food insecurity by dressing in purple on Friday. Take a photo and post to social media using the hashtags #GWHungerWeek16 and #KnowYourNeighbor