The best way to address a problem like poverty is to examine it from different perspectives. The Voices On Poverty discussion, hosted by UConnPIRG on Wednesday, achieved that and more. The group concluded Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week with an open discussion about the causes of and solutions to poverty, giving students the knowledge to turn awareness into action.
This event addressed many different views on poverty. The event began with a short video featuring the perspectives of college students struggling with homelessness from California. It also included educational discussions from Michael Puglisi, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) coordinator, Hanako Agnesta, a student activist and Colleen Keller, leader of PIRG’s hunger and homelessness campaign. All attendees were given a chance to put their knowledge, whether from the panel or other sources, into action in a discussion with peers, trading opinions on the causes and possible solutions to poverty.
In this informative and engaging panel, UConn PIRG, led by Keller, a fifth-semester history major, brought to light the issues many people face as a result of hunger and homelessness. He also addressed how the roots of these problems are not as clearly defined as they may seem.
Puglisi described that many people who are above the poverty line still struggle with money: Whether they cannot afford healthy food or would not be able to pay emergency expenses if needed, they still go without help. Government programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), may not be enough support for a person, or they may not qualify for aid.
Health issues such as obesity and heart disease are highly correlated with poverty and stem from not being able to afford or prepare healthy food. Not having consistent access to sufficient food, also known as food insecurity, is not an isolated problem, as shown by its health effects.
Agnesta, a student activist and panel speaker, spoke about her experience volunteering at the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic. She discussed stories she heard from people at the soup kitchen, many of whom cited problems besides hunger as their reasons for being there. Many people who face hunger struggle to overcome obstacles such as a lack of transportation and inability to find jobs or homes.
As UConn students, many of the discussion points hit close to home, since two of the most discussed populations were college students, specifically from California and residents of Willimantic, Connecticut.
“The issues of hunger and homelessness in Connecticut specifically, which is something I don’t really think of normally, I think of it as a larger scale [problem], but in Willimantic, there’s such a large hunger and homelessness issue,” Kyleigh Hillerud, a fifth-semester digital media and design major, said.
The percent of people in Willimantic living below the poverty line is more than double the national average, revealing the “deep pockets” of poverty that exist in Connecticut, often closer than we realize.
The post-panel discussion gave each student a way to voice their thoughts and opinions on the topic of poverty, making this event more interactive and engaging. The leaders of the event successfully armed students with knowledge of a difficult issue and allowed for an open conversation, turning the information into weapons to combat the problem and putting the power in the students’ hands.
Not only was there a great range of opinions during the discussion, but also varying background knowledge. Each person was given equal opportunity to speak and was treated with respect, allowing for an open and free exchange of ideas and questions.
“I think we had a really great discussion on what we can do next and what our next steps should be, as a campus and as student activists,” Keller said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what students do with the things that they learned here tonight and the things that they now have the opportunity to take action on.”
It was clear the objective of the event was to spread awareness and share the tools that will enable each person to tackle the problems relating to poverty in whatever way they can.
Meghan Shaw is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.