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Going homeless for Friday night

Maureen Murphy, a sophomore studying nursing, left the coziness of her room in Holly Friday night to spend an evening under the stars with Volunteer USF. It was part of a demonstration promoting awareness of homelessness and poverty.

“We are stating a fact that people might overlook,” Murphy said.

This is the first time Volunteer USF has sponsored a sleep-out, which it concluded Hunger Awareness Week’s mostly international awareness events.

“Sleep-outs happen across the country at universities,” said Claire Street, Volunteer USF’s student coordinator. Schools such as Loyola, Arizona State and the University of Maine have used sleep-outs as tools to raise funds, but Friday’s at USF was just to familiarize students with domestic poverty.

The group stayed for 12 hours in cardboard boxes on the lawn between Castor Hall and Kosove Hall for many reasons. Some intended to draw attention to themselves so they could hand out flyers, while others just wanted a humbling experience.

Joy Onna, a second-year health administration graduate student, said that sleeping on top of a flimsy cardboard foundation with only a quilted blanket for warmth helped her sympathize with the homeless.

“I think they are embarrassed when they have people walking by staring at them, especially when they are begging for food,” Onna said. The group did not have to beg, however, because Volunteer USF supplied pizza before the demonstration began.

Some of the students said that life on the street was not accurately being imitated by the sleep-out.

Vanessa Alba, a freshman studying international business, said that the group’s intention was instead to get students to ask questions, which could not have been achieved without sleeping in the inner city for a night.

“You can get as real to it as you want to, but I think this is a good approach for us,” Alba said about the group’s mission.

Volunteer USF tried to convey to students that homelessness is caused by low-paying jobs, a lack of affordable housing, limited life skills and unemployment, which creates consequences such as mental and physical health problems, social stigma and hunger. Each participant was given a role to play. The students filled out paperwork for welfare and other agencies, trying to get employment and job help. After these tedious tasks, they realized homelessness is a cycle that is easy to fall into and hard to escape from. The group also tried to persuade students to get involved in local relief efforts.

There are more than 15,000 homeless people in the greater Tampa Bay area, according to downtown shelter Metropolitan Ministries’ Web site.

Even though they had lawn chairs to sit in and food to eat, after a night huddled within confines of cardboard, students involved said that they realized they needed to appreciate their own lives a little more.

Onna said she regrets wasting food and the experience made her more appreciative of everyday things she takes for granted, such as a mattress.

“I think I take advantage of what I have,” Murphy said. “I didn’t realize that people live like this every day; I don’t think I could do that.”