Baylor students have sense of unawareness toward homeless population

Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

By Molly Freudenberger | Contributor

The homeless community in Waco should be celebrated rather than ignored and forgotten by Baylor’s students, faculty and staff.

I have noticed that our university has been nicknamed the Baylor Bubble for students who do not wish to live outside of campus. Although this provides safety and comfort for all students, it is also a way to shut out the rest of the Waco community. The problem is that some students are ignorant of an entire homeless community that lives outside the boundaries of Baylor’s campus.

It is common for young people to pass by a homeless person and look the other way. This is not surprising, due to the amount of false stereotypes surrounding homeless men and women. The City of Waco Texas website outlines several myths about homelessness. Some stereotypes people often believe are that people become homeless because they are lazy, that people who are homeless should just “get a job” and homeless people are drunks, addicts or crazy people who can’t be helped. However, most homeless people are very smart, kind individuals.

Homelessness is defined by the federal government as “an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence.”

According to the City-Data website, 33.5 percent of the individuals in Waco lived below the poverty level in 2016. Many students have no knowledge of this statistic, so the issue goes ignored. Personally, I wish I had gained knowledge about the severe poverty issues before stepping out into Waco.

Fortunately, I had a specific encounter with a homeless woman during the second semester of my freshman year that changed the way I acted toward people living in homelessness. On our way to a sorority function, my friends and I were stopped by a woman named Rhonda, who sat outside of a restaurant asking for food. After purchasing her meal, we sat and talked with her about her background and how she ended up in Waco. She was an intelligent, hilarious woman with an adventurous life.

I was wearing a prom dress and a crown, which Rhonda said made me look like a beautiful princess. I smiled, took off my crown and asked if she wanted to keep it. Her face lit up. I put the crown on top of her head and watched her happiness turn into unspeakable joy. We said our goodbyes and she thanked me almost 10 times before we left.

Since then, every time I see Rhonda, I stop to have a short conversation with her. She tells me about her family and past jobs and repeats the same funny stories.

It took one encounter for me to recognize a familiar face around the city. I can only imagine if hundreds of Baylor students knew only one homeless man or woman. The homeless community would feel welcomed and comfortable in a place where they’ve felt ignored for so long.

The goal is to adjust student’s perspectives of the Waco community in order to create a friendlier environment. I suggest that Baylor offer a credit class to freshman students to familiarize them with the city of Waco and the lovely people that call it home. The class would offer topics such as the history of Waco, poverty levels, reasons for poverty and economics in Waco. The class would also invite students to participate in citywide events and service opportunities. This would encourage students to leave the Baylor Bubble and take a step further into the Waco community.