Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 25, 2021

Homelessness awareness event lacks substantial student turnout

By RACHEL WITKIN | October 11, 2012

The Women’s Pre-Health Leadership Society (WPHLS) held its second annual $2/Day Challenge last Thursday, Oct. 4 through Friday, Oct. 5. The event was held so that students could understand what it is like to be homeless. Students contributed two dollars towards food and were not supposed to use any electronics.

Last year, the event lasted two days and around 10 students slept outside one of the nights. However, this year, only six people, who were all members of WPHL participated. This prompted the organizers to cancel the sleepover portion.

“At nighttime, you were to sleep outside on the quad and sort of just experience what that would be like, you had to carry your blankets and pillow, make you more aware of what people have to go through every day,” WPHLS Co-President junior Cindy Zhang said. “This year, we had a poor turnout, so it ended up being mostly members of WPHL. The idea of this was to reach out to Hopkins community, so if there [weren’t] that many people from Hopkins doing it, we decided not to do the sleeping outside part.”

Zhang and WPHL Co-President Nikita Gupta were very surprised at the low turnout. They had hoped that people outside of their group would want to participate. They had many people sign up and then decide not to do it right before it started. Zhang and Gupta think that this is because people did not want to live without electronics, or didn’t want to spend a night without taking a shower. “It shows how unwilling people are to be uncomfortable,” Gupta said.

The six participants who did show up were able to make pasta with marinara sauce, yogurt, oatmeal and peanut butter and jelly with their combined $12. They had to ask people walking by for plates and spoons.

“It’s just something that you don’t think about very often. In the Hopkins community, we’re very sheltered,” Gupta said. This really helped us see the other side, live the other side.

On Friday, participants were able to hear Deborah Hunter, who is a “Faces of Homelessness Speaker” from Project PLASE, a group that helps transition homeless people to permanent housing. Jasmine Arnold, Project PLASE’s Community Outreach Coordinator introduced Hunter by talking about how people are confronted with many stereotypes about homelessness, and that it’s important to hear as many people’s stories as possible.

Hunter opened her speech by talking about how she used to view homeless people before she became one herself.

“I’m here to help remove the stigma against homelessness, against people with mental health [issues], people with HIV and AIDS,” Hunter said. “I judged the homeless person as being a lazy bum. I judged the person with the disease of addiction of being a junkie who just wanted to party and get high and not work.“

She went on to mention how, 20 years ago, if people found out that they were HIV positive, they were dead in two years. People wouldn’t even hug those infected with AIDS because they didn’t know anything about the disease.

“I am the new face of AIDS,” Hunter said. “I’m one of the … medical professionals who became HIV positive over 20 years ago.”

Hunter, who was a nurse, was starting an IV on an AIDS defined patient. He jumped, and she got stabbed by the needle. She didn’t report it because she was a contractual nurse and she needed the jobs so she could take care of her three children. “I just moved onto the next patient after cleaning myself up,” she said.

Along with her HIV diagnosis, Hunter has had to face many other hardships. She was a victim of domestic abuse growing up, and emotional abuse. When she was 27, her brother died of an overdose. Hunter blamed herself for not being there to resuscitate him, which caused her to become depressed and start drinking and smoking marijuana. Then her mother, who was her best friend, died, along with a “soul mate” who had cancer.

It was like, gee, I better not let anybody love me because that person might die. So I tried to kill myself,” Hunter said. “Instead of dying, I got hooked on crack cocaine.”

Since she was a nurse, she was able to set her own schedule, which allowed her to smoke even more crack. Eventually, she stopped working because she was too busy trying to find cocaine. This caused her to end up on the streets.

“Being homeless is not just being lazy,” Hunter said. “Being homeless is hard work. You don’t know where you’re going to sleep.”

She was at Project PLASE for a while, and then relapsed. She ended up back at Project PLASE so she could undergo treatment. “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said.

After she had been clean for 60 days, she was sent to a workshop where she learned about HIV and got a treatment coach so she could receive medicine. Once she got off daily observation, she was able to pick up her own pill box and eventually get it delivered to her.

By the time that she started treatment, she was AIDS defined. Her viral load, which determines how serious the disease it, was around 100,000. Today, her viral load is undetectable and her HIV is controlled.

Hunter started living in a park after she left her recovery home. There were two men there protecting her, and people would bring her food and clothes. One day, she prayed that she would receive food. A few minutes later, policemen gave everyone in the park $5. “Everyone ran to the crack man,” she sad. “I went to McDonalds.”

She still had to go to outpatient treatments, which meant that she didn’t have to stay in the park all day. She never got rained on for the three weeks that she was living there.

“One night I came back and there was a woman of God waiting to take me to a recovery house,” Hunter said. “Once we got into her car it started pouring down rain.”

Hunter is currently seven years clean. She does not have a permanent lease yet, but is working towards getting one. “I’ll be homeless until my name is on a lease, and I have my own place and my own space,” Hunter said.

Gupta thought that listening to Hunter helped her understand what the homeless actually go through. “A lot of those people really did have jobs,” she said. “They’re not lazy bums. They’ve usually been through very traumatizing experiences and terrible events.”

WPHLS would like to bring more speakers like Hunter to campus and have events focusing on the homeless population and the disparity in Baltimore’s health care. However, due to the low turnout, they will most likely not organize the $2/Day challenge again.

“We want to follow through with the issue but we’re looking for new ways to tackle it,” Zhang said.

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