As Georgetown’s Hunger and Homelessness Week nears its midpoint, university groups such as the Center for Social Justice and the Georgetown Ministry Center will continue to offer events that give students the opportunity to learn about and reflect on homelessness in the Washington, D.C., community.

The events, spanning from panel discussions and “Sleep Outside for Homeless Awareness” to storytelling and slam poetry, serve to break down stereotypes and stigmas surrounding homelessness. These events coincide with the relaunch of Georgetown’s Hypothermia Outreach Team, which will train student volunteers over the coming days to assess the needs of D.C.’s homeless population and help them secure shelter in advance of the cold winter months. In tandem with these awareness efforts, campus groups should leverage the resources of the university to address the roots of homelessness by offering vocational training programs to those experiencing homelessness.

There is no question that service is a necessary part of social justice. Service programs, currently provided under the umbrella of Georgetown Homeless Outreach Programs and Education, are extremely important — Friday Foods and Mobile Soup Kitchen, for example, provide needed meals for individuals and families. HOT can act as a potentially life-saving service for those without shelter during the winter.

However, to break the cycles that make such services necessary, university activists must also address the institutional designs that perpetuate homelessness. Any solution, however, must begin with a vocational training program.

One effort that the university could consider is a vocational training program. The Georgetown Ministry Center already engages in street outreach through HOT to provide medical and psychiatric assistance to homeless individuals in the vicinity of Georgetown’s campus. The relationships between students and individuals cultivated through this program could be further integrated into longer-term community-based learning courses like those offered through the justice and peace studies major or the potential labor and working-class studies minor proposed by sociology professor Brian McCabe, English professor Sherry Linkon and other faculty. These would provide sorely needed vocational training to D.C.’s homeless population and educate students on how to engage in homelessness advocacy. While students would gain firsthand experience working with the underserved in their community, individuals experiencing homelessness would receive assistance that goes beyond merely addressing their outward struggles.

A vocational training program would be an attractive option for students considering social, nonprofit or educational work after graduation. More importantly, providing individuals with an institutional support network, professional tools and resources to empower themselves would represent a more impactful and efficient use of Georgetown’s resources in the context of cyclical poverty and homelessness.

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