“The homeless are no different than the rest of us,” said Howie Harkema, operations manager of St. Barnabas Soup Kitchen. “Something emotional has happened in their background, they need respect and dignity.”
Linfield’s annual Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week sought to inspire respect for the homeless, as well as to educate the Linfield community about hunger and homelessness in Yamhill County ─ a prevalent issue, as Oregon is ranked number one in homelessness and number three in hunger out of all 50 states.
The week, which was organized by Linfield’s student leadership team Change Corps, ran from Nov. 12 through Nov. 15.
“In Mac there are less than 180 beds total for a homeless count of 815,” Harkema said, “There’s a gap here, we need to fill in the gaps of what is missing in our community.”
Harkema was one of three panel members for the awareness week’s Nov. 13 event: a panel discussion regarding hunger and homelessness, focusing on Yamhill County.
Joining him in the discussion were panel members Lindsay Combs, client services manager for YCAP, and CherylBlevins, operation manager of Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission.
Despite the overwhelming demand for better poverty outreach services, there are significant opportunities for growth.
“We really have a lot of strengths in this community, especially McMinnville,” Harkema said.
Linfield has proven to be one of those strengths.
“This year, a big change I have seen in our Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week is that we have a larger quantity of food donations,” said sophomore Vesta Namiranian, Linfield’s poverty service coordinator.
The Food Drive Dorm Storm on Nov. 14 encouraged students to go dorm to dormwith friends to collect food donations that will go to YCAP barrels placed around campus. The event also urged friendly competition between student groups.
“Since we are having the food drive competition, the support from Linfield’s student groups has helped make our food drive a greater success,” Namiranian said, “Thanks to the help from FUSION, Black Student Union, Native American Alliance and Pre-Nursing club, we have made the week a more interactive week that gets more students on campus involved.”
The Hunger and Homeless AwarenessWeek’s other events also saw an increase in student involvement.Students were invited to kick-off the awareness week with a hunger banquet, an immersive experience to help attendees better understand what it means to live in hunger Nov. 12.
This year, Peace Corps started a new event, the Tie-Blanket Project and Reflection. Students were invited to reflect on the week and make blankets that would be donated to emergency shelters in McMinnville.
“We were inspired to start this after someone was found frozen to death on the street,” Namiranian said. The project and reflection took place Nov. 15, ending the Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.
The event-filled week may have come to an end, but hunger and homelessness continues just outside our campus.
“About 469 families with a combined total of 815 persons were homeless in Yamhill County in 2012,” Harkema said.
Within that count, 313 children and school-age youth were found to be homeless in Yamhill County. And that’s just a snap shot, Combs said. The homeless count does not include a large portion of the population who do not wish to reveal themselves.
Homelessness comes in many different forms, said the panel.
“Homelessness isn’t really the shopping cart guy,” Blevins said.
According to Yamhill County’s 10-Year Ending Homelessness Plan, many experience homelessness because they suffer from mental illnesses or alcohol and drug problems. The homeless population also includes individuals emancipated from foster care, victims of domestic violence and even those who live from month to month. Many may fall into homelessness after just one medical emergency, job loss, eviction or other traumatic event.
“In Mac, most of the homeless are folks who experience unemployment,” Harkema said, “Many are just one pay check away from it.”
All three panel board members are involved in the Yamhill County 10-Year plan to end homelessness, which was created in 2008 and adopted in June of 2009.
“I think that each of us has a responsibility, not only to get involved but to start conversation,” Combs said.
The panel encouraged Linfield students to fulfil their responsibilities as members of the community.
“There are always volunteer opportunities,” Blevins said. “It’s a rewarding experience.”
Students who are looking to get involved can contact the Yamhill County Gospel Rescue Mission to volunteer or give donations.
YCAP also has volunteer and employment opportunities and always accepts donations.
Students can apply to prepare and serve hot meals at St. Barnabas Soup Kitchen, a ministry of St. BarnabasEpiscopal Church located at 822 S.W. Second Street in McMinnville.
“Whatever your passion, you can fit it into to community engagement experiences. You can take that with you. It’s like a ripple effect,” Blevins said. “Start off little, and before you know it, you’re making a difference.”
Chrissy Shane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org