As part of PIRG’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, the PBS Frontline documentary “Poor Kids” was shown and proceeded by a panel featuring guests from the No Freeze Shelter in Willimantic on Thursday evening in the Student Union Theater. Artwork made by residents of the shelter was also on display. The event was held to promote awareness of millions of children in America that struggle with poverty, as well as local homelessness.
Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is part of a week-long campaign to fundraise for the homeless while also spreading awareness. It is sponsored by PIRG’s hunger and homelessness campaign.
“Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is really important because before I came here, I didn’t know what the week even was, but it’s a national thing that all PIRGs do, because a lot of students don’t know about it,” Walter Dodson, vice-chair of PIRG and third-semester political science major said. “Being students, we might not necessarily see the effects of homelessness and the detrimental effects that it has.”
“I think it’s important because it’s an issue that is often overshadowed by other contemporary issues,” said Luke Anderson, a third-semester nutritional sciences and anthropology double major. Anderson, a member of the hunger and homelessness campaign, coordinated the movie and guest speakers. “We have people growing up in the streets right around us that we are completely unaware about.”
“Poor Kids” featured the stories of three families who were struggling with poverty. Most of the commentary of the film was provided by the children, which offered a unique approach to the issue. It was clear that these children were very exposed to their family’s poverty and more aware of bills and expenses than other children. Heartbreaking statements from the children about often having to go hungry or having to give up their dog due to costliness made the movie even more emotional.
The children clearly were unhappy with their financial situations, and it was heart-wrenching to see them get upset or cry over things most children never have to worry about. “If I could change anything, it would be being poor,” one little girl said in the film.
The film also featured several shocking statistics, including that more than 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, one in five children lives in poverty, nearly half of kids with a single mom live in poverty and 21 million children receive free or low-cost school lunches.
“This event can help students empathize through seeing them (the homeless) express themselves,” Anderson said. “This gives us the opportunity to help them.”
After the movie, Leigh Duffy, who works at Willimantic’s No Freeze Shelter, and Julio Rodan, a man currently residing at the shelter, held a discussion. Duffy explained that Willimantic, which is part of Windham County, is the poorest county in Connecticut. She also talked about Connecticut’s plans to house the homeless. Connecticut is on the forefront for looking into providing homes for the homeless. Within the next few years, a plan has been created to house all homeless families.
“The way to solve homelessness is through housing,” Duffy said. “We don’t have enough housing that people can afford.”
Julio Rodan shared his story as a homeless man on the streets of Hartford. He moved here from Puerto Rico, and eventually became homeless at the age of 13. Unlike the children featured in “Poor Kids,” he was all alone, without family.
“It’s not easy, living in the streets the way I did,” Rodan said as he described having to eat out of dumpsters just to survive. Eventually, he found the No Freeze Shelter, which has helped him significantly.
“The work that the H&H campaign does is super important, and that’s why doing events like this is super important,” Dodson said. “It brings (homelessness) to people’s attention far more.”
Melissa Scrivani is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.