By Anokh Palakurthi, Campus Correspondent
Students stayed outside Fairfield Way with cardboard boxes in order to raise public awareness about poverty and experience the physical effects of being homeless at UConnPIRG’s Hunger and Homelessness Sleep Out Friday night.
In addition to the sleep out, UConnPIRG also ran a donation drive for Holy Family, a Willimantic home and shelter center and My Sister’s Place, a Hartford soup kitchen.
Dimitri Wallace, a 3rd-semester chemistry major and UConnPIRG member, said the event not only reinforced people’s poverty awareness, but also gave him a new perspective on what being homeless is like.
“I can empathize a little bit more because I have an idea about how they feel,” Wallace, a member of the Hunger and Homelessness branch of UConnPIRG, said in reference to the below 30 degrees temperature outside. “Some people participating are even putting newspapers inside their own clothing.”
“An event like this gets people talking and wanting to help out,” Wallace said.
Wallace said that he thought that simultaneously holding a fundraiser would also inspire people to pay more attention to poverty.
Despite wanting sleep out participants to invite their friends, Wallace said he wanted to maintain the event’s integrity.
“Poverty is obviously a serious issue and even if people are encouraged to bring their friends to the event, it’s not a game,” Wallace said.
“It may be one day for us, but for other people, it’s their life.”
UConnPIRG president Saman Azimi said he felt the event’s location – between Gampel Pavillion and the Student Union – provided a location with a lot of student traffic.
“Obviously you have a night with a basketball game going on and just next door (is the) student union” Azimi said. “We thought juxtaposing the sleep out and fundraiser near these places would provide an interesting contrast to those places.”
If UConnPIRG could get people to just think about the homeless for one moment, Azimi said he knew that they’ll have had a positive impact for the public.
However, getting people to donate money was difficult – especially if they were parents or older family members, Kelsey Brennan, a 5th-semester global development and sustainable agriculture major said.
Brennan said she was surprised at the amount of parents who either declined or simply ignored asks for donations.
“It’s like we’re not even human to them,” Brennan said, mentioning that one of the most difficult parts of getting people to donate money was getting their attention.
“People look at you so weirdly the minute money enters any conversation about change,” Brennan said.
Though the sleep out ended two hours early,event coordinator and 3rd-semester psychology and human rights major Adedoyin Ladoja said she remains hopeful for the future of UConn’s poverty awareness.
UConn’s Hunger and Homelessness collected over $150 from tabling on Wednesday. The sleep out happened just three days before the beginning of the national Hunger and Homelessness Week. The amount of money raised from the sleep out will be released later this week.
“We have at least people out here fighting for a legitimate cause,” Ladoja said. “It’s not about the people who aren’t paying attention, it’s about the people who are.”