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Bursting the Conn Coll Bubble: The Reality of Homelessness in New London

Connecticut College can sometimes feel like a bubble. In our lives here on this beautiful campus, the pressures and demands of classes, sporting events, clubs and organizations, and our summer and post-grad plans can often distract us from the realities of the outside world- let alone the realities of our own New London community.

We all think we know New London: we’ve all eaten pizza at Two Wives, spent Saturday afternoons studying and drinking coffee at Bean & Leaf, and taken our parents to Muddy Waters when they come to visit. We’ve made morning runs to Dunkin Donuts, gone bar hopping on Bank Street, and bought booze from The Liquor Closet. Some of us even volunteer at Winthrop, Jennings, Benny Dover Jackson, New London High School, and other local institutions. We have done all of these things and almost every single time, without fail, we have seen them: a person wearing too many layers of clothing, someone carrying multiple backpacks, and the groups of people hanging out at the train station every time you leave and come back for breaks. And there are others as well, people who defy the traditional perceptions of what it means to be “homeless.” You see them, too. You see them and take notice, if just for a moment to wonder about them, and then they fade from your mind as you return to campus. But for them, they have no return option.

These are the members of the New London homeless population, and they are fighting for visibility.

When we consider homelessness, we often think about it as an individual responsibility or even choice, instead of the result of larger structural issues present in our society, such as the lack of affordable public housing, adequate mental and physical healthcare, the decrease in minimum wage, or the conditions of public schools. But homelessness is all of these things and more, and it is an issue that is becoming more and more present in our society – and in New London – and it is time to take action.

Over the past semester, members of the sophomore PICA class have examined the intricacies and complexities of homelessness through our work organizing the 6th Annual Walk for the Homeless – events for which Her Campus has publicized before. With the help and sponsorship of the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy and the New London Homeless Hospitality Center (NLHHC), I and eight of my classmates – Renna Gottlieb, Molly Pachay, Paige Ziplow, Meg Robbins, Telayah Sturdivant, Kim Yu, Kiya Thomas, and Patrick Dermody – have spent the semester planning fundraisers, organizing raffles, creating registration/donation forms, ordering and designing t-shirts (with the help of fellow Her Campus writer Caeli Smith on this one!), and planning the logistics of the Walk, an event we are all proud and honored to be a part of.

Yet on top of all this, each of us has spent time volunteering at NLHHC and building personal relationships with Laura Edelstein, the Volunteer Coordinator, other staff members, and homeless guests of the shelter. At both the day center and the night shelter, we worked in the mail room, at employment workshops, joined the Women’s Group on Thursday mornings, played cards, helped build resumes and job applications, and learned about the lives of each guest. The truth is, people who are homeless are just people: people who have fallen down on their luck, lost their jobs, have mental health issues, are addicts, have college degrees, and have dreams and aspirations and goals. They are veterans, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons. And what is even more shocking: many of them are our age.

We are privileged to attend Connecticut College, where we are guaranteed housing for four years, have access to 21 meals a week, and have the support of countless staff and faculty members, professors, CELS counselors, deans, and friends, all of whom support us and encourage us to continue on in our pursuit of higher education and the fulfillment of our goals. With all of these opportunities at our feet, it seems only fair that we help provide others with these same opportunities (or at least help them get their foot in the door), if only for a day.

On this coming Sunday, April 28th, it is my pleasure to invite you readers to the 6th Annual Walk for the Homeless in downtown New London. Beginning at 2pm at the Faith Fellowship at 327 Huntington Street, the Walk will follow the “homeless walk” or the route that many homeless people take every day to the day center on Jay Street, the night shelter on Federal Street, the Soup Kitchen on Montauk Avenue, and back to NLHHC’s new facilities on Huntington. The Walk, one of the biggest fundraisers of the year for NLHHC, will help not only to renovate this new facility, but also help NLHHC provide more services to help transition people out of homelessness. The Walk is a time for solidarity, but it will also be a time for celebration, with performances by Vox Cameli, Miss Connduct, and CAMP, as well as a hula-hooping workshop after the Walk. Of course, there will also be yummy food from General Spot Soul Food, Rita’s Italian Ice, The Flavor King Ice Cream Truck, and the Cake Lady! And, you can also enter into a raffle to win items like Bean & Leaf, and Blue Camel coffee and gift cards, a gift basket from Pinc Boutique, and artwork and art lessons from TDP Art Studio

OVCS (located on the 2nd floor of Cro) will generously be providing rides to and from the Faith Fellowship from 1:30-2:30 and 3:30-4:30. You can register here online, or even come down on Sunday and register at the event! The 6th Annual Walk for the Homeless will be an amazing and meaningful event, and will prove to be an unforgettable experience that you don’t want to miss. So come on down to New London on Sunday to show your support!

Once again, a special thanks shout-out to The Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, The New London Homeless Hospitality Center, Office of Volunteers for Community Service, and countless others who have all helped make this event possible.  

I'm a history major here at Conn and in addition to being a writer for Her Campus,  I am also a SISTER mentor, meaning that I do fun activities with local middle school girls twice a week! This semester I am applying to PICA, a certificate program in public policy and community action, and designing a project around how after-school programs can counteract inequalities within the public education system. In addition to being socially active, I love hanging out with my friends, being silly, reading books, and drinking tea! My current obsessions include: Passion Pit, the Wombats, Downton Abbey, and pretending to be a secret agent when watching Covert Affairs.
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