Fall Interns Take Action to Stop Violence Against the Homeless

Fall Interns Take Action to Stop Violence Against the Homeless

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Rachel Lautenschlager
December 06, 2013

Prior to joining the Homelessness Civic Engagement project, Yuxuan Chen believed that the homeless were usually the perpetrators, rather than the victims, of violence. But on November 19th, her view and the views of nearly 30 fellow TWC students participating in the Homelessness Civic Engagement project were altered. Each participant of the project learned about violence committed against individuals experiencing homelessness in the U.S. and helped by taking action and lobbying Congress in hopes of deterring such crimes from being committed in the future. After the meeting, Chen, who is studying at Tsinghua University and participating in the Prudential Foundation Global Citizens Program this semester, knows "more about the truth" and has become "more determined to help these people out."

 

Altering Common Misconceptions

 

The evening was especially meaningful thanks to the conversation moderated by Michael Stoops, director of community organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, and David Pirtle, a formerly homeless individual and participant in NCH's Speakers’ Bureau. The two guests briefed the students on the subject of violence committed by housed individuals against people experiencing homelessness. They also highlighted the alarming number of incidents that occur annually in the U.S. and the sometimes fatal outcome of such crimes. Many in the audience were taken aback when Michael Stoops presented a news segment on “Bumfights,” a film series profiling homeless men fighting one another and performing dangerous stunts in exchange for money and alcohol.

 

Work Supporting H.R. 1136

 

In spite of the serious topic, the evening ended on a positive note, with students acting to put an end to these abuses. With the help of Stoops, Pirtle and TWC staff member Eliza Allison, students learned about the legislative process and, in particular, H.R. 1136, Violence Against the Homeless Accountability Act of 2013. If passed, this bill would amend the Hate Crime Statistics Act to ensure that crimes against the homeless are included in data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice. Although a handful of states have passed similar legislation, there is still much more work to be done across the country and at the national level.

 

Students wrapped up the evening by writing postcards to each of their representatives and senators encouraging them to support H.R. 1136. In their hand-written postcards, students explained the importance of the legislation and their personal motivation for supporting it. Although the project’s international students, like Ms. Chen, did not have congressional representatives to write to, they participated by asking other TWC interns to do so on their behalf. The following week the postcards were delivered directly to offices on Capitol Hill by five student volunteers.

 

 

The Washington Center produces not only future leaders in their professions but also well-informed citizens who are engaged with their communities and their world. The goal of the civic engagement projects is to allow students to become well informed about an issue they care about and then work to make a positive difference in public life at the local, national or global level. Students devote a minimum of 15 hours over the course of the semester to active learning (attending meetings, lectures and hearings) and action (advocacy or volunteering). By the end of the semester, students write a three-to-four page report reflecting on the experience and articulating how the project helped them become more informed citizens. Find out more about civic engagement efforts in TWC's current and previous terms.


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