Over 6,500 individuals in D.C. are considered homeless, according to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. Last Saturday in Franklin Park, one of them – a man in a sweater and glasses – stepped up in line to receive a cup of soup. He had arrived in the District after living in the Midwest and Florida for a while, he explained to the student volunteers from Hoya Outreach Programs and Education. They asked how he liked D.C.
“Well, it’s a place to live,” he said, and smiled.
The man was one of many homeless men and women who received a ration of hot soup, two pieces of fruit, a bottle of water and silverware that afternoon from H.O.P.E’s Mobile Soup Kitchen. The “kitchen” – a Georgetown van with a vat of soup donated from O’Donovan Hall and cardboard crates of fruit in the back – gives out 50 to 70 cups of hot soup every other Saturday to needy people living in D.C.
H.O.P.E. is a student-run campus group that operates both the Friday evening Grab ‘n’ Give program and the Saturday afternoon Mobile Soup Kitchen. Other campus groups such as Women Advancing Gender Equity and Adelphi join the volunteers in giving out donated food in local parks. The soup kitchen is just one of the ways Georgetown students work to ease the lives of the District’s many homeless men, women and children.
The number of homeless people in D.C. has risen about 5 percent since last year and over 13 percent since 2007. It also includes over 1,500 homeless children. D.C.’s homeless population is over twice the size of that of New York City, which has 3,111 homeless according to The New York Times. The sheer number of people without homes in the nation’s capital is startling to some students.
“It’s just amazing to me that there can be so many homeless people in the capital,” Cat Wright (COL ’11), a volunteer for the Mobile Soup Kitchen, said.
Students were further startled by the fact that so many homeless live in the shadows of the nation’s most powerful, walking down the street side by side.
“It’s [an] alarming [sight, especially] when you’re in the backyard of the World Bank,” Nayha Arora (SFS ’11), one of the volunteers, said.
According to The Washington Post, the poor state of the economy has exacerbated problems as individuals and families from outside the city come into the District in search of a place to stay. In past winters the city was required to shelter any individual in below-freezing weather. Due to major budget deficits, this year the city has proposed first housing those with proof of prior D.C. residence in the last two years or proof of previous assistance from the District. According to the Post and the National Coalition for the Homeless, no other major city has ever enacted a similar policy.
But while the city government has taken a tough stance with budget cuts in store, local organizations are trying to fill the gap.
One of the most visible attempts has been tabloid-style paper Street Sense, which is sold at many Metro stations and downtown street corners. Started in 2003, about half the paper is written by current and former homeless individuals. Today it has over 100 vendors and nearly 16,000 copies in circulation every two weeks.
In addition to raising awareness, the paper works to combat homelessness and poverty, by allowing homeless vendors to profit from sales. According to Street Sense’s website, the paper’s vendors make about $45 per day selling the papers. Street Sense also helps them find housing, receive health care and enroll in job-training classes.
H.O.P.E.’s mission is fundamentally the same as the city’s: to ease the lives of the homeless and raise awareness at the same time.
Next week H.O.P.E. will organize its annual Hunger and Homelessness Week at Georgetown. Events will include Knit for the Needy, an Issue of the Month Dinner and Grab `n’ Give, where students donate leftover meals on their meal plans to feed homeless people in D.C.
For students involved in organizations like H.O.P.E., however, the experience has become educational, as well as philanthropic. Next Saturday they will visit Franklin Park again. With temperatures dropping and many more homeless still in need of sustenance, H.O.P.E’s volunteers said that they enjoyed making a difference.
“I think there’s so much to learn. . I think personally my perspective is pretty narrow and it’s important to widen [it],” Arora said. “We’re all confined by our own experiences.”