Students trade beds for empathy: Group spends night in shelter, experiences plight of homeless

A death, an assault and a drug bust were all part of one student group’s weekend activity.

As an alternative weekend, members of the club Utah Students Against Hunger and Homelessness left the comfort of their warm beds Friday, Nov. 18, to go to The Road Home and sleep next to people who don’t have a permanent home. “The bubble most Utahns are trapped in is extremely tainted,” said Simon Lee, a senior in biology.

While the students were there, a man died of alcohol poisoning on the sidewalk, a woman was assaulted by another female resident and police arrested a few drug dealers, said Judy Vu, a senior in chemistry.

Emily Wall, club president and senior in social work, said the experience put a face on the causes toward which her group works.

“I could never do what (the homeless) do every day,” Wall said.

The students got up at 5:00 a.m., which is when the homeless have to leave the shelter every morning, and spent a few hours in the freezing air to talk with the people and discuss their experiences.

“The experience gave me poignant insight on the issues of homelessness, hunger and unemployment,” said Artem Kopelev, a senior in biology and math.

“(It was) a day full of social conflict and far more realistic human interaction than in our typical daily student lives,” Kopelev said.

Mike Daniels, a freshman in economics, said he heard a few people talk about Star Wars and “realized that these people sound like and could be my friends.”

Wall encouraged her group to write to their congressmen about spending tax dollars on the homeless and making them a high priority.

Wall, another female U student and, the seven single women slept in The Road Home building near The Gateway while the men in the group were bused to Midvale to stay in their overflow shelter.

“Words can’t really express the sense of pain, community, anger, frustration, hope and struggle that I felt when I tried to immerse myself in the daily and sometimes lifelong paths these people deal with,” said Patrick Whiting, sophomore in environmental studies and communication. “All they do is wait for food, for shelter and even death, as I witnessed.” Whiting said he realized that homeless people aren’t different, “they’re just poor.”

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