Thursday evening, the Central Library mall resembled a refugee camp, complete with cardboard housings and lines for chili served with a ladle.
UTA Volunteers partnered with the Arlington Life Shelter and the National Coalition for the Homeless for its annual One Night Without a Home. Students simulated the homeless experience and slept on the mall in cardboard boxes during the 35-degree night.
UTA Volunteers members served chili and saltine crackers to those staying the night. Students wore cardboard signs relating real stories of homeless people. Some were simple, one-word reasons. Others were more intricate stories of downfall.
Alysia Castillo, UTA Volunteers health and homelessness director, coordinated the event for the first time on Thursday. She was one of 57 people who stayed.
Castillo added a silent vigil walk, guest speakers and the advocacy board. For the silent vigil, she led students across the center Cooper bridge while holding up a sign in support of the evening’s cause. The advocacy board set up a booth with numbers of organizations where students could volunteer support and find more information on homelessness.
The shelter provided the five guest speakers, two of whom were homeless. Mark Young, Arlington Life Shelter client services director, used to be homeless. He asked students to define symptoms of homelessness in their own words. Many students said drugs, alcohol and depression. Young said only about 10 percent of the people who go in the shelter have substance-abuse problems.
“A lot of what you see in the media isn’t the true essence of homelessness,” he said.
The evening reminded university studies senior Benjamin Magana of a friend he knew in high school who is homeless. Throughout the night, he said he began to think about how people sleep outside every day.
“I have a lot of material things,” Magana said. “But for a lot of people, this time of year is hard. People die in this sort of weather.”
Magana said he was at his parents’ house when he saw an old friend walk by outside. When he went outside, the man approached him and asked him for money. Because of their friendship, Magana gave him enough for food and sent him on his way with a few sandwiches. Later, Magana’s parents told him of how the young man who just left was homeless and constantly roamed the neighborhood, begging pedestrians for change.
“I felt bad because I couldn’t do anything for him,” he said.
Young said many homeless people want to work but have no means of getting to work or anywhere to stay. He and other speakers urged students to volunteer time at the shelter.