Taste of homelessness designed to spur empathy
Randy Williams (left), who was homeless until recently and now volunteers with Heart to Heart, helps First Community Church member Grace Sue Adams with a housing form during a poverty simulation exercise as part of Night Without a Home. The event, held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 4-5, at First Community Church's north campus, raised awareness of homelessness. Buy This Photo
Around 40 participants in First Community Church's Night Without a Home program learned more about what being homeless is all about.
The program, held Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4-5, at the church's north campus, included a simulation exercise that let participants experience the difficulties of being homeless and living in poverty.
In the simulation, participants were assigned one of five scenarios, said Angie Weber, coordinator of the church's Heart to Heart ministry.
"Perhaps they didn't have a driver's license or a birth certificate and only a little bit of money in their pocket, and they had to go and try to apply for food stamps or apply for a job or arrange transportation," Weber said.
"What we wanted to show people is that homelessness is not easy," she said. "Often, you have to have a driver's license or a birth certificate to take advantage of services. Well, if you don't have a birth certificate, how can you get one if you don't have identification or money?"
The weekend's activities featured guest speakers, including formerly homeless individuals helped by Heart to Heart, and the screening of a video showing how Heart to Heart assists the homeless.
"A lot of people think our ministry is just about operating a food pantry, but we go out and help our friends living on the streets," Weber said.
Participants were served dinner and breakfast in the same manner as when Heart to Heart volunteers serve meals to the homeless, she said.
The weekend included a campout on the lawn of the church's north campus, although some participants opted to go home because of threatening weather conditions, Weber said.
Columbus resident Doug Obergefell and his daughter, Anna, were among the weekend's participants.
"We wanted to learn more about Heart to Heart and raise our awareness about homelessness," Doug Obergefell said.
"I learned that more people are homeless than I realized," Anna Obergefell said.
In the simulation exercise, Doug Obergefell was presented with a scenario in which he had recently lost his job, had no Social Security card and $30 in his pocket.
"I had to try to arrange for benefits," he said. "It's quite difficult if you don't have identification like a Social Security card.
"I've got a better perspective now on what it means to be homeless," Obergefell said. "There are a lot of resources out there for the homeless, but they're not just handed out to them. It's not that simple. Thankfully, we've got Heart to Heart and other programs reaching out to help the homeless."
Columbus resident Grace Sue Adams said she participated in Night Without a Home in part to support Heart to Heart.
"I care very much about the homeless issue," she said. "It's something that could happen to any one of us very easily.
"It's an extremely difficult and scary thing to think about being without a home," Adams said.
From participating in the simulation, she said, she was surprised to learn of the problems not having a home address or a driver's license brought when trying to get help.
The weekend's speakers included Randy Williams and Lenny Allen, both of whom once were homeless and were helped by Heart to Heart.
"I just wanted to let them know that there are a lot of homeless people out there," Allen said.
Many people don't understand how difficult it is to live on the streets and try to find the assistance one needs, Williams said.
"That's the message I wanted to tell them," he said. "I'm so appreciative of the assistance I received from Heart to Heart."
Many people don't want to think about the issue of homelessness, Allen said.
"Out of sight, out of mind," he said.
Williams said he hoped the Night Without a Home program will help raise awareness of the homeless issue as participants tell friends and neighbors about their experiences.
As he looked out at the campout site, Williams couldn't help but chuckle.
"Where I came from when I was homeless, this would have been the lap of luxury," he said.
Weber said she would like to make the Night Without a Homeless program an annual event.
All proceeds from the registration fees will go to support the Heart to Heart ministry.