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The National Homelessness Awareness Week is from November 16 to 24. It is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). The purpose of this week is to give people a chance to understand homelessness and the people who experience it and to encourage discussions about what can be done to end homelessness.

The NCH encourages people to participate if they have these goals. People who are interested in raising awareness about homelessness might invite a homeless or formerly homeless person to speak before their church or community group. They might show a movie or a documentary film to the group and discuss it afterward. During election season, they could host a “candidate challenge” and invite politicians to join them and live on the street for a period of time to increase understanding about the need for laws and policies that would be helpful to those who are homeless.

The NCH organizes such homeless challenges. A guide who is homeless or formerly homeless helps lead a group of up to five participants who experience life on the streets. They dress warmly, carry a piece of ID with them and maybe find a piece of cardboard for a mattress.

Many people have participated in the homeless challenge over the years. The participants are usually high school or college students and they seem to enjoy the opportunity. I have met them on several occasions. They are interested in learning about how homelessness could end. One of the main solutions seem to be affordable housing.

The students usually spend 48 hours living as homeless people. They do not stay in shelters. They dumpster-dive and panhandle. The chaperones carry cigarettes to trade when appropriate. They also bring toiletries and dispense them in the parks to the homeless. These participants seem very eager to take on this challenge additionally, working in shelters and helping to serve food while they are in Washington, DC.

Michael Stoops who directs the program for the NCH is adamant that participants do not ask homeless people personal questions that would be an invasion of their privacy. He told me that while the students usually spend 48 hours on the streets, he is formulating a project with a formerly homeless guide that will give the students a chance to do the challenge for a considerably longer time, at least a week, along with their chaperones. Stoops said that the guide may film a part of the challenge.

The students who have participated often say they hope to go back to their communities and help motivate their leaders to help end homelessness.