By Kaye Burnet | News Editor
Dozens of Duquesne students sat on the floor, eating rice with their fingers, while others feasted on rich food at a large table just a few feet away.
These students were participants in a “Hunger Banquet,” one of the many events that took place on campus during National Homelessness Awareness Week. The week is an opportunity for Americans to learn more about the homeless and to “recognize them as fellow human beings,” according to the Rev. Bill Christy, a Spiritan priest who was involved in organizing the events at Duquesne.
Christy is an advisor for Duquesne’s chapter of the national Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization that focuses on helping the poor. Duquesne’s chapter has approximately 12 student members, Christy said. Those students worked to organize nine events, including the Hunger Banquet, that took place between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18 to educate people about the plight of the homeless.
The Hunger Banquet was a simulation that showed students what it was like to have very little compared to others. Students were randomly assigned to three categories: poverty, mid-level income and wealth. The three groups ate very different meals depending on their assignments, according to Christy. Those with next-to-nothing experienced how many people, including the homeless, live.
That was not the only simulation. On Nov. 12, members of St. Vincent de Paul grabbed cardboard signs and cups and took to Academic Walk, where they panhandled for hours.
“They raised money,” Christy said, “and they also gave people the opportunity to see how hard that life can be. So many people see the homeless and don’t recognize them as someone who could be like themselves.”
Christy said it is also important for people to realize that not all homeless people are on the streets by their own fault — and many of them are children. The Homeless Children’s Education Fund reports that there are more than 1,800 homeless children in Allegheny County alone.
To bring attention to this fact, volunteers held a demonstration during Monday night’s men’s basketball game. At half-time, they lined up in the middle of the court and held up drawings of children that had been created by actual homeless children.
Joseph Ratay, president of Duquesne’s St. Vincent de Paul chapter, said people “tend to not understand or recognize that homeless people have a story.”
Ratay said the best way for a Duquesne student to help the homeless people they encounter downtown or around the city is to ask them what they need.
“Ignoring them should never be an option,” Ratay said. “If you truly do not have anything and time is of the essence, smiling and acknowledging their presence is good enough.”