MASSPIRG hosts seminar on hunger and homelessness

By Jacqueline Hayes

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Caroline O’Connor/Collegian

The MASSPIRG campaign to end hunger and homelessness hosted an educational seminar from different community members on Wednesday in Hasbrouck.

Speakers included Hwei-Ling Greeney, founder and assistant of the Amherst Community Connection, and Jade Lovett, the shelter director for Craig’s Doors.

“In 2009, we founded the Amherst Community Connection in an effort to make sure that people with housing challenges would have housing,” Greeney said. “While working at a soup kitchen in Amherst I realized I loved the work I was doing, and loved feeding these people, but the root problem of homelessness still remained.”

She continued to discuss the many challenges homeless people encounter in trying to find a job. “Trying to get a job is always hard. Finding employment compounded with a disability, a mental health issue, or a former prison sentence—all these things make finding a job very difficult.”

Greeney’s takeaway message was one which emphasized that ending homelessness is a good thing, not just for those experiencing homelessness, but the community as a whole.

Lovett, who formerly experienced homelessness, wanted to get the dialogue going regarding ways to speak about the issue.

“Language is significant in the field of social services. In this field there has been a recent movement which seeks to shift the way we talk about individuals in our programs. We are moving away from using phrases such as ‘homeless person’ and incorporating phrases such as ‘people experiencing homelessness,’” Lovett said.

She later went on to comment on the sad reality of the cycle of homelessness. “Due to funding issues, a lot of social services have been cut considerably in the state budget. For instance, there are no public bathrooms in Amherst and sanitation is a big issue with this topic. There are also no spaces where guests can legally stay during the off months of the shelters.”

Lovett wanted to emphasize the positivity that Craig’s Doors has been met with by community members and students.

“I am always amazed by the number of community members and students who volunteer their time and money to Craig’s Doors and who help to keep our tiny nonprofit alive,” Lovett said. “Athletic teams, Greek life, members of MASSPIRG and other student organizations—they all compose the fabric of this volunteer and donor base which constantly astounds me with their openness and compassion.”

Sasha McEnaney, a freshman sociology and legal studies major, organized the event alongside Olivia DiMarzo, a freshman nutrition major. Both are on MASSPIRG’s campaign to end hunger and homelessness and have been working on this event since the beginning of the semester.

“We were so grateful to the speakers who came and spoke because it was actually quite difficult to get speakers to come at all. We emailed so many and got very few responses, so to have these two actually come and participate to speak was amazing,” McEnaney said.

“We’re very happy with how the event turned out. We feel this was definitely the best way to have this issue talked about—having speakers who actively work with these issues and know firsthand the challenges which go into it,” added DiMarzo.

Issa Sayegh, coordinator for MASSPIRG’s hunger and homelessness campaign, was also in attendance. Sayegh, a sophomore philosophymajor,wasveryhappywithhowtheeventturnedout.

“I’ve been on this campaign for three semesters now and am very happy with how successful the event was, and am very grateful to both the speakers and audience,” Sayegh said. “I think the best way to mobilize individuals is by humanizing those experiencing homelessness and getting the dialogue going regarding the issue.”

Jacqueline Hayes can be reached at [email protected]