POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—Youth comprise a third of the homeless population in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Although not usually closely associated with homelessness, this population is considered to be at a greater risk for homelessness than adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most youth identify family conflicts and abuses in the home as the primary reason they find themselves in unstable circumstances.
Marist College students are aiming to call attention to this issue through an event designed to simulate a night of homelessness. This overnight event, which will take place on Friday, November 3, will be held on the campus green. Students will gather, hear a talk about homelessness, and spend the night outside. The “sleep out” has been organized by the College’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Criminal Justice Honor Society as a way to mark National Homeless Awareness Month.
“We recognize this simulation in no way replicates the seriousness of a real homeless situation, but the goal here is to highlight the problem of youth homelessness,” explains event organizer and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Dr. Frank Merenda. Although the number of homeless youth is difficult to quantify for methodological and definitional reasons, Merenda says one point remains clear, “Youth homelessness is a major issue and Marist students who hope to pursue careers in psychology, criminal justice, social work or any of the social or behavioral sciences will be confronted with the realities that often lead to these situations, namely abuse in the home—whether physical, sexual, or emotional.”
Students who participate will make donations to River Haven, a project of the Poughkeepsie-based nonprofit, Hudson River Housing. River Haven is a safe, voluntary, temporary housing program designed to address the immediate needs of runaway, homeless and other at-risk youth.
“I think it’s very important for students to be involved with this event,” says organizer Natalie Gutierrez ‘19. “I’ve done similar events previously and hope that Marist students come away with the feeling of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes.”
The program will kick-off with a talk by Chris Canale, a Hudson Valley resident who was formerly homeless and now works at a Hudson River Housing shelter, Hudson River Lodge. Canale’s talk will focus on his experience with homelessness. “Every night at the shelter, guests bring stories of homelessness. I tell them, ‘I know what you are going through, because I have been where you are.” I want them to know that there is life after homelessness. You can go on and make a better life than the one you had,” he says.
Other components of the evening will include a presentation of facts about youth homelessness and a film screening. “The event is structured to be not only a simulation, but to give our students an educational opportunity to learn more about homelessness,” Merenda notes.
Anyone who wishes to support this effort can donate directly to Hudson River Housing by visiting hudsonriverhousing.org and clicking on the Marist logo.
Co-sponsorship of the event was provided by the Criminal Justice Society and the Student Activities Office.
About River Haven
Emergency shelter, crisis intervention, basic necessities, family mediation, supportive counseling, case management, referral & advocacy for education, medical, legal, mental health and substance abuse services. For youth in residence River Haven also provides positive youth development and community service activities, weekly topical groups, educational tutoring, transportation to school/program, and enrichment activities. www.hudsonriverhousing.org
Located on the banks of the historic Hudson River and at its Florence, Italy branch campus, Marist College is a comprehensive, independent institution grounded in the liberal arts. Its mission is to “help students develop the intellect, character, and skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global community of the 21st century.” Marist is consistently recognized for excellence by The Princeton Review (Colleges That Create Futures and The Best 381 Colleges), U.S. News & World Report (9th Best Regional University/North), Kiplinger’s Personal Finance (“Best College Values”), and others. Though now independent, Marist remains committed to the ideals handed down from its founders, the Marist Brothers: excellence in education, a sense of community, and a commitment to service. Marist educates approximately 5,00 traditional-age undergraduate students and 1,400 adult and graduate students in 47 undergraduate majors and 14 graduate programs, including fully online MBA, MPA, MS, and MA degrees. www.marist.edu