All day Monday and into the night, Wichita’s homeless population was expected to temporarily grow by about two dozen people.
Kaitlin Heaton voluntarily added herself beginning at 8 a.m.
By 2 p.m. Monday, the Wichita State University student had developed the type of sniffle you get from being out in cold weather.
In five hours, she had already learned volumes about being homeless.
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“We have learned the homeless community is respectful of any help they can get,” said Heaton, a senior in social work at WSU. “They want changes made in favor of them, and they want people to spend time with them and understand what it means to be homeless and how it affects your life to be homeless.”
Heaton, president of the Student Organization of Social Work, was part of a leadership team that organized the group to spend the day and night with Wichita’s homeless. Nearly two dozen students and faculty were scheduled to participate.
The group partnered with the City of Wichita, the First United Methodist Church and the Homeless Outreach Team of the Wichita Police Department to learn as much as they could about Wichita’s homeless population.
It is important to remember those who are experiencing homelessness during the most bitter times of the year. The event will be one that will be talked about and remembered for years to come because of its experiential and community-based efforts.
Kaitlin Heaton, WSU senior in social work
Natalie Grant, a social work professor at WSU, said it impressed her that the students took the initiative to create the event.
“The students are not trying to mock or make light of the homeless but (are) trying to raise awareness, because when students come together, people will listen,” Grant said. “I think they are beginning to have more empathy. It is really a time where they are showing what is important to them and our community and doing something about it.”
Heaton said that as social workers, she and other students wanted to know what it feels like to sleep outside.
“I don’t want it to be easy, I want it to be authentic,” Heaton said.
The students gathered hats, coats, scarves, gloves and other items to give to homeless people throughout the day.
Homelessness can come from anything – one day something bad happens, and you are homeless.
Janelle Jeffrey, WSU senior in social work
“This has been an amazing experience,” said Janelle Jeffrey, a senior in social work at WSU. “It’s eye-opening. Homelessness can come from anything – one day something bad happens, and you are homeless. It is heartwarming to meet people and hear stories.”