New student organization brings awareness to homelessness in Fort Collins

Kendall Krautsack

While some businesses in Fort Collins are fed up with the homeless population, a group from Colorado State University is working to help the homeless and foster a healthy relationship with students, the community and those experiencing homelessness.

(Photo credit: Madison Brandt)
(Photo credit: Madison Brandt)

A new student group, Get to Know Your Neighbor, bridges the gap between Colorado State University students and the homeless community in Fort Collins.

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Members of the group came together by sharing a like-minded approach to the issue of homelessness. Over winter break 2015, the group was formed when members collaborated their ideas and Get to Know Your Neighbors or G2KYN was created.

“This group was created to foster conversation and connection between CSU students, faculty, local businesses and members of the house-less community,” said Caleb Selby, a G2KYN member and CSU senior studying Spanish and mathematics.

G2KYN joined forces with the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition, a local nonprofit that conducts meetings Friday evenings at the Mennonite church. The meeting is held for the homeless and non-homeless to voice their concerns.

“Recently we’ve broken into sub-committees to address specific issues in the shelters, to decriminalizing homelessness, to advocate for those who have camping tickets and other issues,” said Danny Hesser, a CSU research associate and group member.

Hesser said he was motivated to take action in Fort Collins after an article in the Coloradoan highlighted Fort Collins companies frustration with the homeless community interfering with their business.

Chris Paffett, a senior studying marketing, agrees with the local businesses that the homeless population can hurt the atmosphere of their business, but also said the community should do more to help the homeless.

“CSU should make it a more prominent issue, and get more people involved through volunteer opportunities,” Paffett said.

After becoming involved with the group, Hesser started a food bombing campaign.

Through “food bombings,” the group cooks food on Friday nights, and takes the food out on Saturday mornings. While distributing the food they talk and make connections with the Fort Collins community.

With food from the Food Bank of Larimer County, members have taken over providing a meal each Friday night. Because none of the shelters provide breakfast Saturday or Sunday, G2KYN brings breakfast burritos or soup to people in the morning.

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Get to Know Your Neighbors is planning a sleep-out on the LSC Plaza April 24, to raise awareness about the problem of homelessness in the Fort Collins and CSU community. People are invited to sleep outside the LSC until sunrise the next day. There will also be a showing of Invisible Americans, a documentary shot in Fort Collins 2012.

Hesser said the sleep-out is an experiment and will help the community empathize with the homeless.

“It’s a gathering of like-minded people and our mentors to further our discussion about this issue,” Hesser said. “It’s part awareness campaign, but not just for folks who will notice what we’re doing and ask, but for anyone wanting to come to the documentary as well.”

The sleep-out will feature speakers including Sister Alice Murphy, who founded the Murphy Center non-profit as a resource center for homeless and impoverished people in the community.

Along with the sleep-out, the group is in the process of creating a zine, a small magazine or newspaper created by people who are not professional writers. The zine will include stories, poems, artwork and other creative works that are authored and created by members of the homeless community.

Members of the homeless community have started creating work for the zine through books G2KYN has passed out.

The homeless community seems to be reacting well to the idea, Selby said.

“We have been distributing books the last few months that folks have been jotting some really cool stuff down,” Selby said.

Hesser has an optimistic outlook for the Fort Collins community, starting with student involvement.

“This is a complex issue, and I think that by getting students involved, we kind of get a multidisciplinary approach,” Hesser said.  “There’s a lot of creative people out there, and I look forward to seeing what kinds of solutions we can come up with for our community.”

Collegian Reporter Kendall Krautsuck can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Keni444