Homelessness Awareness Week aims to inform students about hunger

Several campus groups and organizations hosted events over the weekend to kick off USC’s participation in National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week with various performances and charity opportunities.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is observed nationally the week before Thanksgiving to draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness in the United States. About 51,000 people were counted as homeless in the county in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

More than 20 neighborhood and campus groups, including SC Homelessness Initiative, USC Graduate Student Government and USC Student Interfaith Council, have united to support the week, according to event organizer Katherine Schofield, a minister for campus engagement at United University Church. The groups will host several events each day through Sunday.

The week’s events began Thursday in Taper Hall with a double-feature film screening of the documentary Homeless in Paradise and the 2009 film The Soloist. On Friday, programming included a performance of the play Surviving the Nickel, at Ground Zero Performance Cafe. The play, which  was written by Melvin Ishmael Johnson, challenges the social perception of the homeless community, specifically the community of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. The play was performed by a troupe of homeless and former-homeless performers in the non-profit theatre company Dramastage-Qumran.

Schofield, also the director of the Office of Religious Life’s Spirituality and Sexuality Program, hopes the events throughout the week motivate and encourage students to connect more viscerally to the issue of homelessness.

“We want to meet students where they are,” Schofield said. “If you’re more comfortable donating money or clothing to a homeless service agency, or learning more about affordable housing in L.A., that’s a great place to start. If you want to meet homeless individuals, hear their stories and get connected with local organizations that advocate on behalf of the homeless and hungry, we’ve got these opportunities as well.”

Vivian Yan, a junior and one of the co-presidents of SC Homelessness Initiative, said when she first came to USC very few campus organizations addressed homelessness. She found the absence strange because she said homelessness is a big issue in the city.

“What really pushes me to want to do this week, and to that point all the events, is that there are tons of people living out on the streets every night in Los Angeles,” Yan said. “It’s really easy as USC students to forget about everything outside of those gates.”

Highlighted events throughout this week include a panel discussion Tuesday addressing the issue of affordable housing in the USC area and in Los Angeles and an awareness event in Founder’s Park from Tuesday to Friday where people can donate to United Way or Home For Good. Throughout the week, students can also donate food in Ronald Tutor Campus Center, Room 224.

According to Schofield, the week aims to encourage a lifelong drive to combat homelessness.

“Students make great advocates because today’s students will be tomorrow’s community leaders,” Schofield said.