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Tent City sheds light on homeless epidemic

by Brianna Bush - Lifestyles Editor
Tue, Apr 30th 2019 09:10 pm



The homeless population in the Rochester area is at a staggering high. Many people are without jobs, homes or a sense of security. In Monroe County alone, there are over 800 people that are experiencing homelessness every night. 

In efforts to help combat and spread awareness about the issues, the Student Social Work Organization (SSWO) held an event on Wednesday, April 24. The event titled Tent City featured two different key aspects.

The main event was an open panel that was held in the Seymour College Union Gallery. The discussion included five panelists, some whom have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness. The first to share his story was Patrick Hall, a College at Brockport alumnus who currently represents MC Collaborative as the new initiative for Finger Lakes Performing Provider System (FLPPS) and works as a social worker.

Hall started his fieldwork while in the Brockport social work program at the House of Mercy and also with the Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA). Heading in, he did not have any background knowledge of what people experience on a day-to-day basis, but during his time with SWAA and the House of Mercy, he learned a lot and gained the experience needed to pursue his field.

SWAA is a national organization of hundreds of student workers in the human service field and is concerned with human suffering and injustice. It increases knowledge of human rights issues and promotes social justice and fair treatment of the poor and underprivileged people in our society and is dedicated to serving and advocating for Rochester’s homeless community. The House of Mercy provides food, shelter, clothing, advocacy and unlike other homeless shelters, operates 24/7 and lets people leave their belongings there, as “the House of Mercy never closes its doors on people in need.”

Next to speak was fellow Brockport alumnus and co-worker to Hall, Kevin Akin. Akin discussed similar topics as Hall but made sure to include other details as well, like VOCAL-NY. VOCAL-NY is a group that advocates for different causes including homelessness.

The next speaker was Patrick Braswell, President of Rochester Homeless Union. Braswell discussed what it was like to be fired from his job and not having a home to go back to. He touched on how he stayed in a hotel at first, but then had to move to a homeless shelter. Braswell had never been to a homeless shelter before and to him, this was a new experience. He approached it with a stereotypical mindset.

“I wound up finding out about a homeless shelter, I had never been to a homeless shelter in my life,” Braswell said. “I used to pass by, see people standing in line for a place called Open Door Mission. I used to pass by and think ‘these people need to get a job, these people need to get a life,’ ‘what’s going on with all the alcoholics and drug addicts,’ I was being stereotypical, like everyone else.”

Braswell realized that people who lived in the shelter were not much different from him. Some had addiction issues, but many were like him, hitting a rough patch in life and trying to work through it. A lot of the people he talked to said they couldn’t get any help because they were sanctioned and did not have the proper paperwork.

“Could you imagine just waking up one day and being told that you’re not getting any more money and that we’re not gonna help you for a period of 120 days, you’re gonna have to figure out what you’re gonna do,” Braswell said.

He said that anyone should be able to go to social services and get help when needed. He encouraged people to go out and protest, talk with elected officials and help with donations or volunteer hours. Braswell also mentioned that living in a shelter is not a life; most shelters kick their inhabitants out at 7 a.m., and those people have to carry their belongings around for the rest of the day, even to interviews and jobs.

The next speaker was Kawansis Smith, who discussed the treatments of tenants in apartments, the mistreatment of the buildings themselves and the landlords’ overbearing control. She touched on her experience living in an apartment, where some of the apartments had icicles inside the rooms and the apartments were in poor conditions. Many of the tenants who complained were evicted, but Smith said tenants should get to know their rights in case they are threatened with eviction. She explained that “housing isn’t a privilege; it’s a human right.” 

The last panelist was Tyrone Hodge who touched on many of the same points as the other four panelists. Hodge has been homeless on and off since moving to Rochester eight years ago and since then has been a member of the Rochester Homeless Union. He explained his experience as very stressful. When he went to get the help, he was turned away because he did not have receipts showing his transactions. 

He went through Open Door Mission, Salvation Army and later ended up in the House of Mercy. At Open Door Mission he was only given 14 day stay, which put an additional amount of stress onto an already stressful situation. When staying at Open Door Mission, he realized his situation. 

“Waking up and understanding my surroundings, I thought ‘oh man, I gotta get out of here, I gotta find me a job, I gotta get out of this place,’” Hodge said. “There was no standing room, just a bunch of couches and close quarters. There aren’t really any means for you to relax and I slept under a table.”

He explained that the House of Mercy offered a safe place for people to be. The space is a stress-free environment for those who need help and doesn’t pressure anyone to “get their life back together.” Hodge finished with information about how the community can get involved in getting help for the homeless population.

SSWO held an event that tied into the discussion, Tent City, during which students had the opportunity to pitch a tent on the campus lawn. Students were welcome to donate any clothes they had or could enter a drawing for Brockport merchandise with a monetary donation.

Brockport senior Keirsten Reid was one of the few organizers for the event, as well as one of the people who had camped out. Reid used this as part of her senior project, known as the Marco Project. Reid made sure to get in contact with the Brockport Student Government, University Police, Mark’s Pizzeria and the college bookstore to get everything for the event. 

Reid believes that Tent City will continue in the future because it focuses on what is affecting our community and surrounding areas. SSWO continues to urge people to contribute and help where they can. 


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