This Sunday marks the end of National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week,a national endeavor created by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign against Hunger and Homelessness to promote education, action and awareness about these two critical issues. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2010 annual report to Congress, each night there are approximately 770,000 people in the nation who are homeless. The U.S. Department of Education reports that an additional 700,000 children are without a place to call home and who go to bed hungry nightly. An estimated 50 million Americans live in food-insecure households.
Among local organizations working to do something about these tragedies is Des Moines University’s Homeless Camp Outreach, a campus organization started by two DMU students in 2008 to provide the city’s homeless with friendship, information on local services and basics like batteries and warm socks. Every Sunday, HCO students visit homeless camps in Des Moines, bringing hugs, hot coffee and conversation. Two Sundays a month, students and supervising physicians – many DMU faculty – provide health care services in the DMU Mobile Clinic, parked near the Central Iowa Homeless Shelter.
“Like most people, the image I had of a homeless person is a bum – a dirty person asking for money, who doesn’t want to work,” says second-year osteopathic student Abhishek Karwa, who grew up in India and Los Angeles. “When I saw Homeless Camp Outreach here, I thought that would be an interesting way to test that image.”
Now president of the organization, Abhishek says the experience “really changed my perception.” He notes, “Each person has a story to tell, just like me. The homeless people we’ve met have become our friends.”
HCO members agree the experience will make them better people and health care providers. “You gain skills in how to relate to individuals who are very different from you,” says Scott Lowman, an osteopathic student and first-year HCO liaison. “You can be comfortable with the fact that you may not fully understand another person, but you can still communicate with them and be respectful.”
HCO students this week encouraged the DMU community to skip one meal and donate the cost to a local shelter or food pantry. So instead of offering a recipe this week, I ask that you pause to ponder what it would be like to be truly hungry and/or homeless – then consider what you can do to change that situation.