Homeless Not Helpless


Madison Mann, Staff Writer

As the transition to winter begins, the Gannon University community is speaking up on the growing homeless pandemic in the city of Erie.  

According to Homeless Shelter Directory, in 2019 there was an average of 356 homeless people in the city of Erie.  

Max Zimmerman, a senior exercise science and physical therapy major, has worked with his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, to raise awareness of homelessness. Pi Kappa Alpha has carried out a fundraising event the past few winters, passing out stockings filled with blankets, hats and masks.   

“The homeless population is very prevalent in the downtown area near State Street,” Zimmerman said. “I never once walked up State Street without seeing at least one homeless person.”  

Zimmerman also commented on what can be done to help those in need.  

“Gannon and the local community should prioritize giving to the homeless especially as we move into the winter months where it will be much harder for someone to find shelter,” Zimmerman said.  

Jasmine Neely, a junior biology/premed major, shared the same sentiment as Zimmerman. Neely hopes to see a change in opportunities for the homeless.   

“I have pretty much encountered homeless people daily around Gannon’s campus alone, as well as on my walks to class every day,” Neely said. “There are multiple factors that contribute to homelessness, and they differ person to person; mental health and employment factors are huge contributors right now.”  

Emily Breniser, a senior environmental engineer major, said there is a need for the community to step up.  

“I would think the first step is providing somewhere where they can rest, eat and prioritize their personal hygiene,” Breniser said. “Access to clean running water and improved personal hygiene can stop the spread of diseases this population is at risk for.” 

Students across campus have joined together to share their thoughts of what can be done to see a decline in the homeless population in the local community.  

Valerie Shaffer, a senior chemistry major and a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, touched on the importance of providing educational opportunities to learn about the different options made available for homeless people to seek help.  

“Lack of knowledge and assistance are factors that lead to the overgrowing homeless pandemic,” Shaffer said.  

Shaffer also touched on the lack of affordable housing that is well-kept along with the lack of shelters. She has always had a huge heart for the homeless from personal experience. She hopes to see more opportunities for the homeless population of Erie. 

“I would recommend opening up more shelters and providing jobs fairs to help these individuals get back on their feet,” Shaffer said.  

The homeless are much more than their label. The fact that they are homeless but not helpless has been the main topic of this conversation.  

Chante Woodard, known for her kind greetings and warming smile in Gannon’s cafeteria, shared her own personal experience regarding homelessness. Chante has had multiple experiences that have led her to help those around her.  

“Every time I come into work, I run into a homeless person, I always go to docs to buy them breakfast because everyone deserves a hot meal,” Woodard said.  

Chante has also given scarfs, hats, blankets, and gloves to homeless around the city. She recently encountered a couplewho is homeless with their two dogs, and she said these individuals specifically were beyond thankful for all the help she has given them.  

Woodward also said there is a need in Erie for all-day homeless shelters.  

“The homeless are kicked out of shelters at six in the morning leaving them out in the cold all day until seven at night,” Woodard said.  

She hopes to see Gannon join the motion to help the homeless by handing out blankets, pillows, and necessities all year for the community in need around the university 

 “To the Gannon students, the same homeless people I looked out for they did as well,” Woodard said. “God is so good no matter what the circumstance is.” 

Ariel Farren, a senior psychology major, spoke about her personal experience with the homeless volunteering at a local church to serve dinner.  

“Every Sunday they provide warm food but also clothes that have been donated by the community to help them get through the winter,” Farren said.  

“To me, one of the most heartbreaking things was the age range of people that came in. It’s not just one generation being affected — children, elderly, etc. are also victims of homelessness.” 

Farren also said that providing educational opportunities for the children who are affected by homelessness can help decrease homeless rates in the future. 

Sunday dinners are held at the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant located at 250 W. Seventh St. in Erie. According to the church’s website they serve 130 to 200 guests weekly. 

Farren is also president of Gamma Sigma Sigma, Gannon’s national service sorority. The sisters of Gamma Sigma Sigma recently organized a game night fundraiser held on campus. The fundraiser was a game night that welcomed faculty and staff across campus to raise money for The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.  

Celene Kalivoda, an assistant professor for the Center of Business Ingenuity, shared her support. She said supporting those who are experts on the topic can be extremely beneficial for those who choose to want to help. 

“I believe the Erie City Mission is a great place to direct people,” Kalivoda said. “Rather than creating more organizations to support this community, we need to support the ones that already do help.”  

The Erie City Mission is in the heart of downtown Erie. This organization works closely with the homeless community to provide overflow shelters, clothes, food and guided support. Those looking to help can turn to Erie City Mission by providing donations of food, clothes, blankets, hygiene supplies and financial donations.  

As winter approaches, students and staff around Gannon are hopeful to see each other step up to help those in need this holiday season. Reach out to the local community, apart we are one but together we are whole. 


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