Homeless panel kicks off Hunger and Homelessness Week at UT

11/05/07 Seán Kinane
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Beginning today, the University of Tampa is commemorating National Hunger and Homelessness Week. This afternoon, the student group P.E.A.C.E., or People Exploring Active Community Experiences, organized the Faces of Homelessness Panel where formerly homeless people from the Tampa area and from Washington, D.C., spoke about what it’s like to live on the street.

Molly Murphy is a student at University of Tampa and is one of the head coordinators of the P.E.A.C.E. Volunteer Center.

John Harrison worked in computers and middle management and owned a home until his company was sold and he was laid off. Shortly thereafter his home burned down and after living with friends, lived in his car until it was towed away and he was forced to live on the streets. He found a job working at a health club that had a shower and a locker for his things. Harrison told the audience of about a dozen about waking up to the sound of a bottle shattering near his head and seeing a man walking away with his shoes.

One theme of all of the speakers who formerly were homeless is that anyone could become homeless with a bad break and that people who are homeless deserve respect like everyone else. A woman who gave her name as Barbara said it was difficult finding shelter because she had two children.

A man named Carl said he grew up middle class and served with the Army. He worked in mid level management before he was laid off. At various times he lived along Gandy Beach and in a tent in the woods before he lost hope after having to quit his construction job because of leg problems.

Michael O’Neill, director of the Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau, said there are four to six times as many animal shelters in the country than homeless shelters and that 44 percent of individuals who are homeless hold jobs. O’Neill said there are several types of legislation under consideration that could help individuals who are homeless. One is called the HEARTH Act, HR-840, which would help homeless people get services. Two others deal with violence against the homeless.

O’Neill taught people in attendance an acronym to remind them how they could help the homeless.

Anica Damanka works with P.E.A.C.E. at UT and told WMNF her reaction to hearing these formerly homeless people tell their stories.

The Faces of Homelessness Panel will occur again tonight at 8 in Reeve’s Theater in the Vaughn Center on the campus of the University of Tampa. Other events in U.T.’s National Hunger and Homelessness Week include the Oxfam Hunger Banquet on Thursday at 6 p.m and a Sleep Out for the Homeless on Friday night.

For more information:

P.E.A.C.E. (People Exploring Active Community Experiences) Volunteer Center at U.T.

University of Tampa

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