Last Wednesday, 32 Beloit College volunteers spent the night out and about. They weren’t partying or even pulling an all-nighter, however; they were taking part in a sixth annual count of homeless people in the county, organized by the Rock County Homeless Intervention Task Force.
“The job was to walk or drive about areas of potential shelter for homeless persons under bridges and in parks, public parking lots, all-night gas stations and bars,” says Bill Conover, director of the college’s Spiritual Life Program. “Gladly we found nobody out exposed on our route, but we were shocked to learn from Marc Perry [of nonprofit Community Action, which organized the count] that as many as 400 people are homeless on any given night in Beloit; although most of those folks have a roof over their heads, some are truly, completely exposed to the hazards of the Wisconsin night.”
Some of the students who turned out to volunteer have had experience with this kind of project.
“I had done the count several times before, and know how important it can be,” says Kate Finman’13. “Beyond the necessity, it is always an experience to remember.”
She continued her thoughts in a blog post about the experience:
“Less than two miles from campus, we found an encampment under a bridge; it was organized and had sleeping bags, clothes, and even a bag for garbage. We were told that those people were probably out at the bar and would return just to go to sleep. The men in charge told us that they had once encountered a twenty year old guy there; someone who would blend in at my school was sleeping under a bridge in -20 degree weather. It stole my breath away. I knew that I would shortly be returning to a nice warm bed that I would sleep in before waking up to go to school and carry on business as usual. What if his normal were my normal?”
This count also was not a first for Max Olin’11, but it was a great deal more chilly than his prior experience, and it made him think. “The count was a lot colder than the previous time I participated,” he says. “Walking around for that long you couldn’t help but be reflective of the fact that there are people living outside in this environment and it is easy to take for granted the fact that we have warm places to sleep at night when it’s negative degrees outside.”
Danica Slavish’12, who works for the Campus and Community Outreach Center, says the student volunteers were integral. “Without the student volunteers, this event, which is very important for community funding, would certainly not have been possible,” she says.