There are places around us we don’t seriously associate with homelessness or being short on food. Our universities, those bastions of higher learning and aspiration are certainly one of those places, although that shouldn’t be the case.
Perhaps the cliché of a starving college student taking on an all-night study sessions fueled by ramen has numbed us to the reality facing too many students. Or maybe it’s our parent’s memories of college being a time of deprivation and struggle that we all understand this experience is just the way college is supposed to be. In either case, the seriousness of homelessness and hunger on college campuses is being deflected, making it all the harder for students facing these challenges to have their needs addressed.
Homelessness during college isn’t a small problem. A June article of the LA Times revealed that 1 in 5 students in the Los Angeles Community College District are homeless. When put in perspective with Orange County, which has a higher percent of homelessness among students in the K through 12 population than Los Angeles (5.8% in OC to 4.0% in LA), to think this issue does not affect OC, or is only limited to community colleges, is naiveté bordering on negligence.
Enter the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Armed with an understanding of the struggles students face, UCI brought together community partners such as Project Hope Alliance, Whole Foods Market, and others for a week dedicated to addressing homelessness and hunger on campus, aptly called Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week (HHAW). For 5 days students will be able to contribute to food drives, participate in activities around campus raising awareness, and get hands on by making meals for shelters with food donated from Whole Foods Market.
To help convey the reality of homelessness facing Orange County, Project Hope Alliance was invited to bring on campus 214 Sq. Ft, a motel room art installation. The room was inspired by a motel Project Hope Alliance CEO, Jennifer Friend once lived in with her parents and three brothers growing up.
“We wanted to remove any abstract idea that students might have about what it means to be homeless,” said Jennifer. “Homelessness isn’t just people who live on the street. It’s a cycle that spans generations if it isn’t disrupted.”
The motel room is on display at the University’s Student Center in the Viewpoint Gallery. A particularly fitting venue for the work, since it was originally conceived across campus at UCI’s Claire Trevor School for the Arts with Professor Luke Cantarella.