Students Hear About Homelessness First-Hand from Agency Officials and Those Who Lost Their Homes

David Pirtle shared his story of homelessness with the students.

Oct 24, 2008 — Students at Stern College for Women gained a deeper insight into the problem of homelessness when the student-run Social Justice Society invited current and former homeless people and officials from agencies working with the homeless to address them.

“Homelessness is an injustice that we witness on a daily basis in New York City, but seldom take the time to understand and combat,” said Gilah Kletenik, of the society’s board.

Addressing the more than 120 students in the audience were Michael O’Neill, speaker’s bureau coordinator of National the Coalition for the Homeless, and two formerly homeless people, JoAnn Jackson and David Pirtle, who all traveled from Washington, D.C.; Tamara Ortiz from Women in Need, which provides services and housing to homeless families in New York City, and members of the formerly homeless Broddaus family.

The guests shared their harsh personal stories of homelessness. “When Shannon Broddaus, a high school student, told us that upon being asked by classmates if they could visit her, she had to remind them that she had no home, there was not a dry eye in the audience,” Kletenik said.

The Social Justice Society board members spent some time getting to know the speakers over dinner before the event.

“The speakers touched us in a profound way by demonstrating that normal people are homeless and by showing us the extent and severity of the economic injustices surrounding us,” said Kletenik.

The event is the first of many activities the society has planned to spur students to action. The theme of this year’s activities is economic justice. In addition to organizing weekly volunteers at a soup kitchen, the student group packages left-over food from the school cafeteria for distribution by City Harvest twice a week and is planning a volunteer day for students on both campuses to donate their time throughout the city in December.

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