[Hpn] Williamsburg, VA - Williamsburg homeless situation underestimated - The Flat Hat News - November 08, 2003

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Sat, 8 Nov 2003 07:21:25 -0500

Williamsburg homeless situation underestimated

By Hadyn Rickett - The Flat Hat News - November 08, 2003

Williamsburg, VA - Sometimes a single fact is all it takes to
change your perception of the Williamsburg community.

In my first week here at the College, a professor explained to
me the nature of the economy in Williamsburg as an hourglass
with extreme polarization of the upper and lower classes and
very little middle class to stabilize it.

I did not realize the total implications of this fact (hereafter
referred to as "my fact") until recently, and I know it will
continue to affect me. While unremarkable to some, my fact
shaped my goals as a student and as a member, albeit for a
decidedly transitory period, of this community.

Some of those who are more established in the community than
students, may be in denial that homeless people make up a
growing percentage of the population.

I can assure you however, that to new students, the homeless
problem simply is not common knowledge.

Many of us do not know that the problem exists, or else are
unaware that there are pitifully few services that advocate for
the homeless.

Students express surprise when I tell them that Williamsburg
does not even have a homeless shelter, and the fact that most
students would consider the existence of a shelter a "given" in
every community further underscores the need for one.

The efforts of the Sharpe Community Partners, Community Service
Leaders, the Hunger Awareness Taskforce and the Williamsburg
Homeless and Indigent are that much more necessary and

With their help, students are becoming 100 percent more aware
than they were before: by simply knowing that homelessness
exists in a place like Williamsburg is momentous. Just as I
experienced with my fact, a vast reshaping of perception takes

But how will you know when this fact slaps you in the face?
Well, sometimes it requires a kick in the pants to get you

My kick came from a muddy, alcohol-stained woman with dirty
clothes speaking at the Hunger Awareness Taskforce's Night in a
Box event last year.

I had been involved in the Sharpe Community Partnership Program
and the HATforce, which gave me an outlet for teaching others
about my fact.

When Patti McKenzie took the stage on the Sunken Gardens at our
sleep-out, I was angry at first because she criticized our event
and said that it did not accurately represent the situation most
homeless people face. I argued that she should not have been so
harsh with her diatribe because the purpose of the event was to
raise awareness.

But instead of forgetting about it, I called her with more
questions and spent an afternoon around town getting a tour of
the real Williamsburg that you don't see in brochures.

This eventually led me to accept a position on her Board of
Advisors for Williamsburg's Homeless and Indigent. The value of
my fact had expanded to lead me down another path, after
realizing that in my attempts to infuse people with the
knowledge I possessed; I had closed my own ears to what she
needed to teach me.

In conclusion, it is impossible to know completely how
influential a piece of knowledge can be. But only awareness can
foment change, and awareness begins with a single fact. Here's a
way we can test my theory.

After reading this article, you now know that homelessness
exists in Williamsburg. What you do with this information is up
to you.

Will you allow your enthusiasm and awareness to be cultivated
and shared, taught and expanded upon, to create a society, in
which a shelter would be embraced?

Perhaps I will not have to hope wistfully for the day that such
a society would exist here in Williamsburg.

Hadyn Rickett is a guest columnist for The Flat Hat. She is
currently a sophomore at the College of William & Mary.

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