“We always say to help alleviate hunger and homelessness in our community…[and right now] we’re trying to raise awareness for [the situation]” explained Crystal Ramirez, a student volunteer for the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG).
OSPIRG, Southern Oregon University’s student run non-profit organization, works on public interest issues ranging from environmental to public health, has begun their Hungry and Homeless Campaign.
According to Sahara Iverson, the Community Service Coordinator for this campaign, “It has been running for a couple terms now, but we always come back to it because homelessness is just so prevalent in Ashland.” For the week of Nov. 13 – 18, OSPRIG’s volunteers took to their community to help those in need.
“Most of the week has been bringing up discussions about hunger and homelessness, but throughout the rest of the week we’re gonna get more active,” explained Iverson. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week began with a discussion on destroying the stigma about homelessness.
Next, volunteers spent the evening making blankets for homeless animals which they then passed out during their event on Friday. Then, on Nov. 16, volunteers set up a table in front of Market of Choice, asking people for donations to help fill SOU’s food pantry.
SOU’s food pantry, located in the basement of the Stevenson Union, supports students who cannot afford groceries by offering an array of food items for free. “There’s a lot of people [on campus] who are struggling to make it month by month, and once they do find out about [the food pantry], it’s pretty cool because they start using it as a resource,” explained Iverson.
Near the end of the week, volunteers traveled to Talent to participate with the Jackson County Fuel Committee (JCFC) for a weatherization where they insulated homes with plastic to keep the heat in and the cold out for people who could not afford to do so. Finally, OSPIRG ended their campaign by partnering with JCFC for the second time that week in a wood chop.
“We chose a diverse mix of policy discussions, community service, and collaborations with Civic Engagement, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and an RA in Shasta Residential Halls,” explained Muriel Hart, the Coordinator of the Hungry and Homeless Campaign. She continued, “Ashland, and the Rogue Valley in general, has some pretty harsh policies regarding houselessness and homelessness in community.”
According to Ashland Daily Tidings, 146 houseless people received citations for sleeping in their cars last year. “[These policies]…criminalize homelessness, and this doesn’t create an atmosphere of acceptance and empathy for the community that needs the most support,” Hart explained.