CSUN students slept Saturday night on CSUN’s lawns in an effort to “Survive the Night” and experience life as a homeless person as part of Homeless Awareness Month.
The students, provided with cardboard boxes, spent the night experiencing soup kitchens, homeless shelter simulations and unforgiving weather conditions as part of the event held by CSUN’s newly revived Unified We Serve volunteer program.
According to Justin Weiss, the coordinator for the volunteer program, Saturday night’s event was an effort to create more empathy for the situation many homeless people face.
“We are trying to create a paradigm shift where students don’t think of people in poverty are there because they are lazy, uneducated or don’t want to work, but because of a set of circumstances,” Weiss said.
Through simulations of the various challenges the homeless, especially the mentally and physically ill, face in finding food, shelter and employment, Weiss said they want students to gain a first-hand experience of the struggles the homeless face.
Eboni Blanche, a senior public health major and a volunteer at Saturday’s event, said the aim of the sleepover was to use the student’s personal experience to enact change.
“In order to truly make a difference, you have to experience it. You can’t approach this with an outsiders view. Many times people try to have an “‘I think this is what needs to be done’ mentality’ but it is not always what is needed,” Blanche said.
The event also included speeches and testimonies from people who experienced homelessness. One of the speakers, Phillip Watson, a man who described himself as chronically homeless, said he would often find himself without shelter at various points in his life but that he was fortunate enough to have family members who cared for him.
Watson said, “students will understand more the conditions homeless face” because of Saturday night’s event and that he also learned about some of the attitudes of others towards the homeless.
He said that the students’ experience on Saturday night was the first step in helping the homeless.
“It’s like a journey of a thousand miles that starts with one step,” Watson said. “I’m impressed with the sacrifice students are making. It means so much to see students doing this.”
Watson said he does not believe he will ever be homeless again but said that he would advise students to “avoid debt like the plague” as he believes debt and war are huge causes of homelessness.
One student who survived the night, Carroll Brown, a senior graphic design major, said he had a sense of accomplishment in the morning.
“It was extremely cold but what kept me going was that I was experiencing something that people experience everyday,” he said.
Freshman student Akbar Kajtibi said he experienced how tough being homelessness is for those in the community.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “I am ready to go home to my blankets and a roof. I cannot imagine being homeless. It’s almost unreal. I would never want to end up like this.”
Volunteer Tima Alqubandi said she hopes people’s attitudes towards the homeless were changed.
“Here we are complaining and moaning,” Alqubandi said. “What about places where it’s colder. How do they survive, get money? We were fed tonight, and given boxes. People go for days without eating and any shelter.
She said she hopes that after Saturday’s event more people will decide to volunteer.
“I feel like everyone here are good people but now they will be more confident enough to talk to a homeless person and try to help them,” she said.
Weiss said that currently the volunteer program is looking for more students to join to help create more programs like “Survive the Night.”
Blanche said that in the end, she believes their goals were accomplished.
“I feel that students got it. We cleared up some stigmas about being homeless. I hope students take what they learned and continue to break the stereotypes and spread the knowledge they gained,” she said.