Helping the homeless: How the University of Guam educates on the issue through action
Students and staff from the University of Guam put the words of the university’s mission statement — setbe “to serve” — into practice at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Science’s annual Feed the Homeless event in November. At the event, volunteers from CLASS, the Political Science Student Association, the Sociology Club, and the United Nations Association of the University of Guam handed out meals, toiletries, and snack bags to the homeless outside of the Guam Congress Building.
“We recognized the increase in homelessness, and you see more families out on the streets, and we wanted to come out into the community and do something directly for the people,” Sharleen Santos-Bamba, associate dean of CLASS, said.
Feed the Homeless is just one of many homeless outreach programs the University is involved with, according to Margaret Hattori-Uchima, dean of UOG’s School of Health, who is also a board member of the Guam Homeless Coalition and co-chair and founding member of the Coalition’s Health Care Committee for the Homeless.
“Since UOG is part of the island community, we really feel that we need to give back to the community,” she said.
Last semester, Hattori-Uchima said UOG volunteers distributed mosquito nets and repellent to homeless families after Dengue fever was introduced to the island, assisted at the University of Santo Tomas Alumni Organization of Guam’s annual Medical Mission, and collected countless donations for those in need.
“We’ve gotten so many clothes from UOG families and the outside community that at every event we’ll bring clothing and allow the homeless individuals to select clothes that they need,” Hattori-Uchima said.
On Jan. 31, student and faculty volunteers from UOG will assist in the Guam Homeless Point-in-Time Count, one of the largest homeless outreach events on the island. The count is an informal census where volunteers go from village to village, through jungles, parking garages, and abandoned buildings in rain or shine from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. to count the number of homeless while distributing bags of food, toiletries, blankets, and other supplies to the homeless population.
The information collected is shared with the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Homelessness Data Exchange in order to help Guam secure federal funding to assist the local homeless community.
The University has been a leading partner in conducting the count since 2009, Hattori-Uchima said, with an average attendance of 40 to 60 student and faculty volunteers. In 2015, the University represented 37% of the total volunteer force with 78 volunteers, Hattori-Uchima said. Additionally, senior Bachelor of Nursing students often act as team leads because of the field training they’ve received from the University.
Through volunteer opportunities such as these, UOG students positively impact the community while learning important lessons on citizenship and academia.
“One lesson we want to impress upon the students is that when they see someone in need, we do something to help — it may not be feeding the homeless, but something toward helping others get back on their feet,” Santos-Bamba said.
Heather Garrido, sociology major and president of the UOG Sociology Club, and Natasha Suba, senior political sciencemajor and president of the Political Science Student Association, related their experience at the Feed the Homeless event back to their UOG studies.
“As part of sociology, we look at various social problems, homelessness being one of them. As sociologists, we look at the root causes of homelessness. A lot of people like to say it’s
individual problems, but it’s really systemic problems,” Garrido said.
“One lesson we want to impress upon the students is that when they see someone in need, we do something to help — it may not be feeding the homeless, but something toward helping others get back on their feet.” – Associate Dean Sharleen Santos-Bamba
“I think it’s important — in regards to political science — that you take care of your community because your community is your body of people, that’s who you want to bring up, that’s who you take care of. This is something we need to do. A lot of times we forget the people who don’t have as much as we do, so this is a way of giving back,” Suba said.
These hands-on experiences also equip students with important skills they’ll need after graduation. “Our students have always said that [these volunteer opportunities] really enhanced their learning because they’re actually in the field with real people,” Hattori-Uchima said. “Our graduates are out there doing these jobs, so they need to know what’s going on in the community. So, for us, in all the schools and colleges, service is really vital to our mission.”
Students, faculty, or staff interested in assisting with this year’s Guam Homeless Point-in-Time Count can contact Dr. Margaret Hattori-Uchima by phone at 735-2650/2651 or email firstname.lastname@example.org