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College students spend night outside to empathize with homeless

'Fight the Night' raises donations totaling $3,000 for homeless aid

ROCHESTER, Mich – Oakland University takes part in one of several events that are being held this week in Oakland County for Homeless Awareness Week.  

A social issue which often remains hidden in a rather affluent area, activists and shelters are using this critical time to raise awareness to the over 3,000 people who are still without homes in Oakland County alone and the 35,000 that make up the rest of Metro Detroit, according to the Homeless Management Information System. 

This past Saturday, an event called 'Fight the Night' hosted by Oakland University, gave a world of privilege an experience of pain and solitude, as students voluntarily left the warmth of their beds to live in the harsh reality of being homeless. 

Coordinated by the persuasion and marketing in health promotion class taught by professor Charles Rinehart, took the challenge of spending the night outside in a parking lot at the university from 7 p.m. on Saturday until 7 a.m. on Sunday.

“We want it to be cold, it’s chilly right now and it’s going to get colder as the night goes on and that’s good,” Rinehart said.  “I wanted to really focus on the idea of creating empathy for the homeless.”

This was the second annual “Fight the Night” where some students were returning participants, others first timers, but for one student it was a moment that she had to live through before when her and her mom found themselves using 24 hour McDonalds as a place to call home.

Ch’nel Skelton a sophomore who is studying psychology, felt this experience rushing back that was her reality just a few years ago where a series of events landed Skelton and her mother, in limbo with no place to go.

“It’s an experience I can never take back,” Skelton said.

After moving to Michigan from Maryland, the approval for housing was pending and had to resort to sleeping in hallways and any place they could find shelter for two days.  While some live like this for years, Skelton was grateful for her mindset that they were here for a purpose that allowed her to achieve better conditions but not before she felt the discrimination and judgments sink in.

“People look at you different,” she said.  “The discrimination is very open and aware and it is out there.” 

Shifting perceptions

Her story made other students realize that these circumstances could happen to anyone and hopes society can shift their snap judgments into becoming understanding and empathetic.   

During the event, featured speakers including volunteers from the Baldwin center and the HOPE warming center have been the aid people have turned to when recovering from events such as a house fire, an unexpected health expense or other varying circumstances that were beyond their control.

Shared stories and presentations like these, aimed to bridge the gap between privileged and poverty that in the past, left the homeless at the mercy of those who discriminate and ultimately decide who is deserving of help and who is not.

This event and many others this week will encourage the community to reach out and connect with those less fortunate instead of shunning people away, trusting that their donations will make a difference.

Read: Homeless Awareness Week aids thousands in Oakland County Alone

While this event created an opportunity that people may never experience, organizers hope students will walk away from this willing to share the experience and new perceptions that could change the way the homeless are treated.

In the end the event helped raise about $3,000 for the Baldwin Center in Pontiac to help feed, clothe and support the enrichment programs they offer.  The community can donate at crowdrise.org/fight-the-night or on the Baldwin Center’s Facebook page and will continue to accept donations up until the end of the year.