“In Their Shoes” event illuminates national issue

Griffin Fletcher

Not all of WKU’s students will spend Thanksgiving at home this year.

In an effort to inform students about student homelessness at WKU and campuses all over the country, a simulation intended to replicate the various facets of homelessness and raise awareness, named “In Their Shoes,” was held Tuesday in the Downing Student Union Nite Class venue.

In order to simulate the struggles of homelessness, various tables were situated around the room, each focusing on a separate aspect of what homelessness affects, such as health, education and employment.

Upon entering the simulation, visitors were given a scenario and character through whom each person would “experience” homelessness. They were then encouraged to walk to each table to find out how each aspect of homelessness could potentially influence and disrupt their fictional character’s life.

Along with the simulation, a “plarn” (yarn made from plastic bags, often used to make makeshift bedding) station was set up at the “Debrief” table, where students could help make bedding that would be given to a local church and eventually given to charity and people in need.

Coordinator for Housing and Residence Life Nicholas Schiller was in charge of the employment table. Schiller said many students fail to realize that homelessness and unemployment tend to go hand in hand.

“Looking at the process of filling out an application for someone who is homeless as a college student is something that we don’t really take into consideration as being difficult,” Schiller said, explaining applicants unable to provide a permanent residence or phone number can be difficult to reach and impossible to mail checks to, which often deters potential employers.

Residence Hall Director Olivia Perkins helped run the event and believes homelessness is often misunderstood and improperly stigmatized.

“You don’t necessarily know why people are on the streets or what their story is,” Perkins said. “With stereotypes and judgment, you might be able to look at me, but you don’t know my story, you don’t know where I’ve been, you don’t know if I’ve been homeless, you don’t know if I’ve been fired, you don’t know where I come from.”

Schiller also remarked on how certain stigmas and preconceptions misrepresent homelessness.

“You never know what someone else’s experience is, and this gives some insight, on a very minor level, into what that experience is like,” Schiller said.

Because the simulation introduces students to such an experience, the event was aptly named “In Their Shoes,” which reminds students that they must view homelessness from a firsthand perspective if they are to comprehend it fully.

Given that homelessness exists within our own student community at WKU, Perkins said she believes recognition is necessary.

“We do have kind of a population on campus where, they might be students here, but where do they go during the summer?” Perkins said, emphasizing that many never consider the concept of student homelessness.

“It’s just a great program that allows for students to very briefly experience what some of their colleagues and peers, in the college setting, are going through,” Schiller said.

Hodgenville freshman Savannah Herron attended the event and said she believes student homelessness is worth discussing.

“It’s a big issue, honestly,” Herron said. “And it just doesn’t seem like a lot of people try and do stuff for it.”

Herron said the event is “a really good idea,” but she suggests that future “In Their Shoes” events be advertised more around campus.

She believes greater advertising and a more well-known location to host the event would attract more students and call attention to the issue of homelessness within our community and the world beyond.

Reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].