A night under the stars soon turned into a night of braving the elements for 12 students camping in the Commons Monday night, but while the weather may not have been ideal, it gave the students a deeper understanding of why they were there in the first place: to advocate for homeless awareness.
The TCU Wesley Foundation, a community of students within the United Methodist Church, dedicated this week as Homeless Awareness Week with the focus on raising awareness on campus about the homeless population in Fort Worth.
“We have been passionate about homelessness for several years now and we finally decided to make a big event out of it,” said Haley Rylander, a junior environmental science major and member of the TCU Wesley Foundation. “We wanted to do more than just give our time to a homeless shelter or collect donations. We wanted to really impact the community as a whole and reach as many people as possible, so we organized events across a whole week during November, which is Homelessness Awareness Month.”
TCU Wesley hosted events throughout the week including a campout in the Commons, a film screening, speaker discussions, a donations drive and a closing dinner.
The campout in the Commons allowed students to spend the night in the shoes—or in this case, the sleeping bag—of a homeless person.
Before the students attempted to sleep, they heard from someone who had been in their position before, but for real. Lou Friese, a man who was formerly homeless and is now a custodian at First United Methodist Church, told students what it was like sleeping on the streets.
“The reality is, not every homeless person can sleep in a shelter,” Friese said. “That means that some are left to sleep outside, whether that be on the side of the highway or somewhere more tucked away.”
Isaac Dunn, president of TCU Wesley, said he hoped to gain better insight into what homeless people face on a nightly basis.
“This is an opportunity for us to get a small glimpse of what it would be like to have to sleep in these conditions night after night,” Dunn said. “It’s so eye-opening to think about how susceptible you are to the elements when you don’t have a home to go to at night.”
Twelve students signed up to sleep in the Commons. Their night under the stars soon became a night against the wind, including a tornado warning at around 4 a.m. Students took shelter in the mailroom near the Commons and went back outside once the storm cleared.
Their efforts and perseverance did not go unnoticed.
“I was really surprised and impressed when I saw people in sleeping bags out in the Commons area,” said Grant Rutledge, a first-year student who happened to pass by the group. “TCU is a really affluent area and I don’t think people know that homelessness is a real problem. This draws awareness to it.”
In addition to the campout, TCU Wesley hosted a screening of the independent film “Homeless,” a docudrama filmed and produced by independent filmmakers Tif and Clay Hassler.
“Homeless” is a 90-minute feature film the Hasslers made about a friend in their church. The couple produced the film on a $12,000 budget.
“This project really opened our eyes to the homeless population both locally and nationally,” Tif Hassler said. “Telling the story of someone who hasn’t ever really had their story told is incredible.”
“Our goal is to reach as many audiences as possible,” Clay Hassler added. “We both have a background in higher education and working on college campuses. We know there is a real energy within college students. There are people ready to mobilize and get things done. With TCU putting on Homelessness Awareness Week, it was a perfect collaboration.”
The film tells the story of a teenage boy caught in cyclical homelessness. He balances school, work and trying to find a place to sleep. But it wasn’t the boy’s location or attitude that resonated with the audience—it was his age.
“The entire time I was watching the film I just kept thinking like, ‘Wow, this could be me,’” said Samantha Granado, a junior studio art major. “I’ve thought about it before, you know, getting out of school and not having a place to live. I just don’t think I realized that it really happens.”
TCU Wesley set up tables and propaganda stations throughout the week educating students with facts and figures about the homeless community in Fort Worth and taking donations to various shelters.
The week concludes Friday night with a dinner at the TCU Wesley Center. Students will go through the book of Job and discuss suffering. The event is open to all.
Through Homelessness Awareness Week, members of TCU Wesley are hoping to ignite a sense of urgency on campus to reach out to the homeless in Fort Worth.
“TCU students are, for one, really smart,” said Allison Lanza, associate campus chaplain. “Secondly, they are really caring and compassionate about things going on in our world. We often think of our world as really far away, and I think sometimes that our world and people that are suffering are right in our backyard. TCU students have the potential to really make a difference.”