This weekend I participated in the "Reclaim and Revitalize South Side Park" event. Lots of trash was collected and many trees were saved from the grasp of strangling vines. In addition to neighborhood members, we were lucky enough to have about 100 volunteers from Carnegie Mellon University helping out in the park crusade.
At the wrap-up, the students volunteered what they learned from the experience of getting out into the city park. One young woman popped up this doozie: "From cleaning up blankets and mattresses, I learned where homeless people actually sleep."
I personally view it as a failure of her upbringing that this was the first time she was exposed to some of America's underbelly, our unfortunate members of society who are too often swept under the rug and ignored.
However, maybe I had a harsh upbringing. Do you know where the homeless people sleep in your neighborhood? If you open your eyes, you see signs of homelessness throughout Pittsburgh (and most cities in the country) from the beggars in the streets to the blankets and newspapers hidden in various cubbyholes and parks. That knowledge is just as valuable as any class you can take at Carnegie Mellon.
If you want a first-hand experience of how homeless people sleep, check out the annual "Sleep-in For the Homeless" where dozens of people camp out on the steps of the City-County Building downtown with nothing but a sleeping bag to raise awareness of and funds for Allegheny County's homeless population. As of January 2009, Allegheny County counted 1,418 homeless "residents." 17% of them had been in the military service. 14% were victims of domestic violence. 18% of them reported serious mental illnesses. 23% of them were children.
Raising awareness and funds is the only way these numbers will decrease.