From Nov. 10 to 14, more than a dozen people slept in tents behind the Bridgewater State College student center. Most of the participants were students, but one or two faculty or staff members joined them each night. The goal of the event was to show solidarity with homeless people and raise awareness, said Bria Wilbur, a sociology major from Easton.
By the end of the week, Bria Wilbur was having trouble focusing in class.
She was sleeping in a tent and eating in a soup kitchen. She just wanted to go home but then realized she didn’t have a home.
“It was hard, and it was only just a small taste of what it’s like to be homeless,” said Wilbur, a Bridgewater State College senior and president of the Social Justice League, a student group that sponsored the second annual “tent city,” a simulation of a homeless tent city erected on campus from Nov. 10 to 14.
“We are physically exhausted and mentally drained,” Wilbur said.
Each night, 12 to 19 people slept in tents outdoors behind the student center, many of them, like Wilbur, for the entire week. Most of the participants were students, but one or two faculty or staff members joined them each night.
They allowed themselves to use public buildings while they were open, including public computers and the showers in the campus gym. But they stayed away from their dorm rooms or apartments and did without personal conveniences like cell phones and laptops and other comforts of home and ate at a mock soup kitchen in the cafeteria.
The goal of the event was to show solidarity for homeless people and raise awareness, said Wilbur, a sociology major from Easton.
“We wanted to get people to start talking. It’s not just something you can avoid in a train station or in downtown Taunton. It’s right here on campus,” she said.
On a dreary Friday afternoon, students huddled under the awning at the rear of the student center. One student slept on a bench under a coat surrounded by duffel bags and backpacks.
The mercury dipped into the 30s the first three nights, and it rained hard Thursday night.Tent city was far from comfortable, but that was the point.
Daniel Kent, a senior from Abington, lined his tent with cardboard boxes, so the rain wouldn’t seep into his sleeping bag.
“You have to really think about everything. You have to think about classes and just your actual well-being and make sure you don’t get sick because if you do, you’re not going to be able to take care of yourself or anybody else,” said Kent, a special education major.
Wilbur and Kent both said the event gave them a better appreciation of what homeless people go through
“You can’t even express how much of an appreciation you get. We spent five days with decent meals and having tents. Some people who are homeless can’t even afford a tent. Some people who are homeless can’t get their meal for the day. They spend weeks, months, some spend years homeless,” said Wilbur, who’d like to work with juvenile substance abusers after graduation.
The students were also struck by the sense of camaraderie that developed among the residents of tent city.
When somebody got discouraged, they all rallied around with words of encouragement. When one student needed a pair of glasses, another offered up a spare pair. When one student needed a sleeping bag, another student offered his.
A faculty member pitched in with grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone late one evening.
“The majority of us stayed out the entire week and we kind of became each other’s family. We had to be each other’s support system,” Wilbur said.
“It was really nice to know if we needed something, we were going to help each other out,” she said.
Kent said he thinks tent city made a difference. Students, faculty and staff who didn’t participate directly stopped by to find out what was going on or catch one of the two daily speakers on the topics of homelessness and poverty.
Speakers included BSC sociology professors and representatives from the Coalition Against Poverty, Horizons for Homeless Children,Veterans Transitional Housing and other organizations.
Kent said he participated in tent city last year for one night and wished he had spent the entire week.
It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding for that very reason, he said.
“I wanted to learn more about homelessness. It’s a big problem and it’s not going to get solved on its own,” he said.
Since then, he’s joined the Social Justice League and organized canned food drives through his fraternity. He credits tent city with opening his eyes to the need.“If we don’t do anything, who will?” Kent said.