The event title, “Philadelphia 4,000” refers to the number of homeless in Philadelphia.
Concerned students and community members gathered in the basement of Paley Library on Thursday for “Philadelphia 4,000: A Night of Homelessness Awareness.”
The event was sponsored by seven student organizations, including Temple Habitat for Humanity, National Council of Negro Women, Student Peace Alliance, Temple University Purpose, Students for Environmental Action, Having Ambitions ‘N’ Devotion for Service, Sociology Undergraduate Minor & Major Association and LIFT, the chapter of a national organization that has a mission to “combat poverty and expand opportunity for all people in the United States.”
Philadelphia 4,000 organizers donned blue, green or tie-dyed T-shirts with the event’s name on the front and the names of participating organizations on the back. One such student was sophomore tourism and hospitality management major Trang Pham.
“Rowena [Lair, the president of Student Peace Alliance,] wanted to include a number for an event for the homeless, and we found out that 4,000 is the number of homeless people in Philadelphia on a given night, which is where the event’s name comes from,” Pham said.
Project HOME – Housing, Opportunities, Medical Care and Education – confirmed this number. The Philadelphia nonprofit defines homelessness as “a person who … does not have a fixed, regular adequate nighttime residence … may be sleeping on the streets, with friends or family, in cars or abandoned buildings or in shelters.”
Pham and fellow organizers started planning Philadelphia 4,000 in November, and found willing participants from the seven student organizations by December.
From December to February, the Philadelphia 4,000 organizers worked diligently to put together the event.
But this event was not specific to Temple.
“Too often homelessness is ignored, so people shy away from the subject and events like this aren’t held,” senior education major Lair said. “It’s something everyone sees but nobody likes to discuss.”
The event, which was moved indoors due to unexpected rain, was broken into three segments, including personal accounts of homelessness in Philadelphia by speakers such as Tara Colón, 34, a mother, member of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Kensington Welfare Rights Union organizer. Colón was 19 when she first experienced homelessness.
“I was the first generation that did not live better than my parents or had a job waiting for me after high school graduation,” she said.
Colón discussed her personal account of living homeless to a room full of eager students and community members, while three of her four children supportively stood by her.
“Living in homelessness makes you feel like you failed,” she said.
Colón explained that she, like many homeless people, was embarrassed about her situation until she realized it was not her fault.
“How much is it my fault when there’s a lack of available education after high school?” Colón asked. “In order to get a job and sustain it, you’re going to have to go back to school a few times, and if you can’t afford to go to college once, how is it your fault?”
Colón then told the audience that the issue in Philadelphia is urban homelessness, and that rural homelessness does exist. She said homelessness today has a much broader face, with the majority of it affecting children 12 years old and younger. Colón said homelessness is not just an urban or city problem – it’s an American problem.
“There are two alternatives,” Colón said. “We can allow [poverty] to imprison us, or we can decide to not tolerate it, and I can decide to scream at the top of my lungs that I’m not the only one who is homeless, that I’m not the only one who is jobless.”
After the audience heard Colón’s speech and the rain stopped, the event relocated outside next to the Bell Tower. There, Philadelphia 4,000 participants heard the remaining personal stories of homelessness and listened to live music from local music groups, such as the Broad Street Line A Capella, Boxcar Children and ad drum circle.
The entire event ran from 6 p.m. to midnight.
“I want students to take away the information we give them, as well as a desire to act, to look at the options they have and combat homelessness, the same way I do,” Lair said. “Everyone deserves a home.”
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.