EDITORIAL: ATO plays homeless

ATO members absent from their cardbord boxes, September 1, 2016.
Ryan Fischer | The Parthenon
Members of Alpha Tau Omega absent from their cardboard box shelter Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Alpha Tau Omega is set up in front of the Memorial Student Center once again in hopes to raise awareness about homelessness and funds for the Huntington City Mission.

Each fall semester, the fraternity builds a shelter out of cardboard boxes and tarps, and members of the fraternity take shifts in the shelter throughout the week. The idea is to emulate homelessness and raise awareness and funds for a worthy cause.

While ATO’s intentions may be pure (last year’s event drew in over $2,000), it’s difficult to ignore how crass the entire event seems, with its basis firmly rooted in the exploitation of homelessness as well as the hardships that go along with it.

Homeless people aren’t homeless in shifts. The homeless can’t escape their predicament at the onset of actual struggle or have home-cooked meals/take-out delivered. They also don’t have the luxury of using cell phones or laptops to pass time with while staying sheltered from the sun under an ATO-labeled tent with box fans.

Homelessness is a pervasive issue, with a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development finding more than 83,000 individuals and 13,000 American families were chronically homeless. The National Alliance to End Homelessness characterizes “chronic homelessness” by long-term, repeated homelessness, sometimes accompanied by a disability. Chronic homelessness becomes a void many men and women across the nation simply can’t escape.

Real homeless individuals must grapple with the constant search for shelter or contend with environmental factors, like weather, should shelter be unreachable. Even when homeless citizens can stay the night in a homeless shelter, they’re often subjected to physical and sexual abuse, among other issues.

The Red Cross is reported to kick homeless people out of their shelters for things like gender identity or sexual preferences, making another group of people who are already stigmatized even more afflicted. The National Coalition for the Homeless report that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Those people are almost guaranteed to have a more difficult time as opposed to the experience of heterosexual homeless people.

The Treatment Advocacy Center reports that 28 percent of homeless people are affected with some sort of mental illness. America’s view on the mentally ill is already negative, so this, combined with the general public’s view on the homeless, equates to even more struggles. It’s also worth considering the malleability of homelessness, with some citizens slipping in and out of the socio-economic status on a regular basis. More than 500,000 Americans were homeless at one point, according to the department’s report.

In the face of these facts, what ATO is sorely missing is its scope. They don’t recognize that their event is perpetuating the idolization of struggle by a more privileged class, and they seemingly don’t understand that their event is insensitive to a class of people they likely share no identification with.

It is understandable to have something out in the open for visibility’s sake, but this just isn’t working. The fact that ATO feels haphazardly arranged cardboard boxes and tarps represent what it’s like to be homeless speaks volumes about their experience with the homeless community. What would a homeless person think if they encountered this display? Surely they would not feel like ATO is doing them any favors. Non-mandated community service hours would be a step in the right direction.

In short, ATO’s efforts undermine their fraternity, the university and any legitimate attempts to raise awareness about the reality of homelessness. Maybe next year, the fraternity should consider a more orthodox approach, like a bake sale.