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HCC students plan night outside to increase homelessness awareness

March 24, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Community College students Maria Vargas, left, and Kelli Whitsell, right, tape their cardboard house together with the help of fellow student Ellene Ho, rear, Thursday night behind the HCC Student Center. The students were planning to spend the night outside as part of a homelessness awareness event.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Despite a weather forecast that called for the mercury to dip to as low as 25 degrees Thursday night, Kelli Whitsell was committed to sleeping outside at Hagerstown Community College to bring attention the plight of the homeless.

"I'm here, I'm going to do it," said Whitsell, noting that she had a sleeping bag, a few pillows, a blanket, a jacket and extra clothes to help her make it through the night.

Whitsell was among about 40 students who were expected to participate in a homelessness awareness effort at the school's student center.

The students were able to use about 50 cardboard boxes donated by Spichers Appliances & Electronics to make a temporary home on a patio area outside the center.  A fire was lit nearby to huddle around.

Speakers were lined up to talk about homelessness, and organizers were planning to show the movie "Homeless to Harvard," which is about a homeless girl and her struggles to get into Harvard University.

HCC student Tessa Walls said she wanted to hold the event to bring attention to the problem of homelessness. Walls, who is involved in the school's student government association, said there are people who do not realize the extent of homelessness in Washington County.

Walls said she is also troubled over the stigma that people attach to homeless people, including that homeless people end up in their situations because they are drug users or lazy.

But there are other reasons people become homeless, Walls said.

HCC nursing student Maria Vargas said she was participating in the overnight event because the school's nursing program emphasizes how to take care of all types of patients.

Vargas said she is concerned about homelessness among people like veterans.

"I think it's increasing with the economic situation," Vargas said.

  Among the speakers scheduled Thursday night was an Iraqi war veteran who was once homeless and Jodie Stock, executive director of REACH, a nonprofit organization that provides a local cold-weather shelter for the homeless.

  The students were planning to eat at a makeshift soup kitchen Thursday night and help serve breakfast at the REACH shelter at 6 a.m. Friday.

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