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Homelessness Awareness Week motivates students, public entities to act Kennesaw State University…

Georgia (Oct 19, 2011)

Homelessness Awareness Week motivates students, public entities to act

Kennesaw State University’s annual, multi-faceted week of activities designed to increase the campus community’s awareness of the realities of homelessness has inspired students and state and local governments to join in creating more public awareness about the issue.

During the recent 2011 Homelessness Awareness Week (HAW) at KSU, about 250 students and faculty attended an all-day conference; listened to speakers with  first-hand experience of homelessness or who work on behalf of homeless individuals and families; and participated in the culminating two-day sleep out. Members of the KSU community donated two truckloads of clothing to be distributed by Gateway International.

Leading up to the university’s fourth annual event, Gov. Nathan Deal, the Cobb County Commissioners and  City of Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews each proclaimed October 10-15 “Homelessness Awareness Week.”

The public proclamations acknowledged the university’s leadership in promoting awareness about homelessness and underscored the urgency of addressing the needs of the growing population of the homeless in the state, county and city. The movement to enlist public entities in the awareness campaign was orchestrated by Evelyn Campbell, a 2011 KSU alumna and sociology major.

“There are an estimated 21,000 homeless men, women and children sleeping in their cars, on the streets and other locations not meant for human habitation,” the city’s proclamation notes. "…Ending homelessness is critical to the vitality of families, businesses and communities in the City of Kennesaw and the state of Georgia. …”

On the opening night of KSU’s HAW sleep out, which simulates the experience of living outside without permanent shelter, a small but committed group pitched tents, cardboard boxes and other makeshift shelter from the cool rain. Staff members from the local Salvation Army served hot meals from a mobile canteen. On the second night, participants endured an unexpected and reoccurring drenching from the timed water sprinklers in the quad near the Social Sciences building.

Even so, students were “all the way in it this year,” according to Janese Thompson of KSU’s Adult Learner Programs, who coordinated arrangements for the event.

“I fell in love with the sleep out after the first time,” said Jay Gonsalves, a senior sociology major who was participating in his third annual sleep out.  “I wouldn’t miss it. I’ve come to know many homeless people, especially students.  I started thinking about my life and how incredibly blessed I am.”

Gonsalves said he hopes to study behavioral economics in graduate school, which would give him a chance to research how much money society would save by helping the homeless, especially providing permanent housing, compared to how much is spent on hospitals, shelters, law enforcement and other temporary intiatives.

About a dozen members of the Criminal Justice Club, trained especially for the sleep out, fanned out among the crowd, issuing citations and making arrests for violations of event rules. They issued bench warrants and later held mock trials for individuals arrested for violations.

“This is very real training for students,” said Peter Fenton, assistant professor of criminal justice. “They’re trained in proper law enforcement tactics for dealing with homeless individuals, like how to ask for ID, what to do if a person does not have one and how to advise them of their rights.  It’s pretty serious stuff.”

Lana Wachniak, KSU professor emeritus and event founder, expressed appreciation for the commitment of students, faculty and community partners to the ideals of Homelessness Awareness Week. “Homelessness awareness does not end in one week, though,” she cautioned. “I hope all the participants will carry forward the understanding and concerns about the needs of the growing ranks of  those who are homeless and living in poverty.”

Wachniak, who recently was named 2011-2012 “Georgia Sociologist of the Year” by the Georgia Sociological Association, has contributed $5,000 to establish an endowed scholarship at Kennesaw State for a student who is homeless or who has experienced homelessness in the past.  She and husband, William H. Wallace Jr., hope to raise $15,000 to fund the endowment.  For information, contact them at 770-928-5722.

The annual HAW event is organized by KSU’s departments of Student Life, Adult Learner Programs, Public Safety and the Center for Student Leadership. It also is supported by the sociology and criminal justice departments and more than 20 non-profit community partners.

-- Sabbaye McGriff



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit