Help for homeless comes to U

By and

On any given night, approximately 3,000 men, women and children in Salt Lake City are homeless.

The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness provides opportunities for students to help.

Mia Harmsen, a sophomore at the U, started the Utah chapter of the organization as a result of an assignment she received in her service learning politics class.

“We were supposed to find some organization and volunteer with them. I wanted to do something with the homeless, but we didn’t have anything at the U to do with the homeless, so I started a chapter,” she said.

The organization is the largest of its kind, with 600 campuses participating in 45 states.

The Utah chapter is new this semester, and is the first one in the state.

Harmsen says she hopes to put together food and clothing drives in which students can participate.

“Clothing drives are a big deal because they need clothing for men…They usually get clothing for children because that’s what people grow out of, but it’s really hard to get clothing for older men because they don’t grow out of their clothes,” Harmsen said.

According to Harmsen and Director of the Crossroads Urban Center Linda Hilton, homelessness is often misunderstood.

“A lot of them are a lot more like you then you might think,” Hilton said.

Both Harmsen and Hilton noted that the general perception tends to be that the homeless are there because they choose to be.

Joel Wallace, 32, and his family have not chosen to be homeless, but have been for the past three weeks.

Wallace was in the process of moving his wife and young son from California back to New Hampshire, where he was raised, when they discovered that his wife’s pocketbook was stolen, its credit cards taken and their bank account maxed out.

Through the help of the Salvation Army and Welfare Square, which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wallace and his family were able to secure food and a temporary place to stay.

According to Hilton, Wallace’s story is an example of how the system is supposed to work, but most aren’t able to rebound as quickly as Wallace.

“Utah earns about 80 percent of the national wage, while housing costs are very high,” Hilton said. “The average rent on a one bedroom apartment is $529 a month.”

While alcoholism and drug use may play a role in why some are homeless, there are other significant factors, according to Harmsen.

“Probably the biggest contributing factor to homelessness is untreated mental illness,” she said.

Students interested in getting involved in the organization can visit its Web site at www.nscahh.org.

The organization’s first meeting of the year will be held on Nov. 5 at 3:30 p.m. in Union 319.

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