Merced’s homeless rate is rather high, and according to the Merced Sun-Star the number of homeless people has more than doubled as of 2014. Since a survey conducted in 2014, there has been 768 homeless individuals within Merced County. Also, just to put this issue into perspective, 564,708 people in the U.S. are homeless. This means that nearly 1% of the United States homeless population is in Merced County .
The University of California, Merced was specifically built in the city of Merced to help improve the area both socially and economically. As a result of this–along with the large number of homeless individuals near the UC campus–some students have been moved to try to make a difference within the community.
The leaders of this effort are Julissa Romero and Jessica Lopes. They got together under the Public Health Society for support in order to start the homelessness project. To kick-start the project, there will be a week of awareness and prevention beginning the week of April 17th.
On that Monday, they will be hosting a clothing/supplies drive which will continue on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday there will be a hosted art exhibit to showcase pictures taken of the homeless community in Merced. Thursday, a homeless mini-summit will be hosted with Mayor Murphy and the City Manager as guest speakers. The plan for Friday is to volunteer at a homeless shelter and serve dinner afterwards. Lastly, they are coordinating a “Merced Walk” where members of the community are welcome to join in cleaning up the streets of Merced.
All of the aforementioned events and activities are open to all who would like to participate. These events will be posted for promotion the week before they happen. The overall goal is to raise awareness among UC students about the homelessness in Merced, along with ways that homelessness can be prevented.
An interview via email gave further insight into the project and one of the major questions was regarding the difficulty of acquiring funding. Julissa and Jessica stated that they are still in the process of gathering funds for the project; however, they have applied for a grant as well as multiple ICC proposals and they are waiting for a response.
The other question posed was what inspired the start of this project. The response I got was:
“I [Julissa] joined Jessica to do the project because at first I wanted to get involved more with the club. Once I met Jessica and found out how cool of a person and how knowledgeable she [was], I knew I had to stick around. Getting involved in the project has helped me open my eyes to be more grateful for what I have. I am more aware of the problem [of homelessness in Merced]. Since I have started to intern at the Public Health Department in Merced and every morning I see all the homeless people under the bridge and I feel more motivated to make the week more successful.”
As can be seen, the concern for homelessness in Merced is substantial and needs attention. Some students at UC Merced are already taking the initiative to make a difference, but everyone can get involved and is encouraged to do so. We may not be able to change homelessness in California, however we can make a positive impact here in Merced.
Photo Credit: Justin Gonzalez