Students give to homeless by going homeless

Students give to homeless by going homeless

Five days after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur began the Festival of Sukkot, an week-long commemoration of the biblical 40-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters, after their exodus from Egypt. To celebrate their escape, in Leviticus 23:42, it is written, “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths.”

A few thousand years later, three UVA students knelt on a patch of grass in the Brown College courtyard (within a short distance of Alderman Library) and hammered at the base of their booth, or “sukkah.” Behind them a handful of students wrestled with a tent, a modern day sukkah, that was being erected not to honor the Almighty’s command but the area’s homeless.

UVA students spent seven nights in the Brown College courtyard to "help those who aren’t necessarily sleeping outside for religious reasons," says Zev Lebowitz.

“We wanted to help those who aren’t necessarily sleeping outside for religious reasons,” said Zev Lebowitz, president of UVA’s Jewish Social Justice Council (JSJC), as he drilled into a two-by-four. For the third straight year, the JSJC—in partnership with Hillel—is raising money for agencies that serve the homeless by arranging for sponsors to pay for the students’ nights outside.

The last two years, more than $7,000 went first to PACEM and then the now defunct COMPASS. This year it will go to Charlottesville Health Access, a new group that operates under the umbrella of PACEM and is an outgrowth of that winter homeless shelter.

“We’re helping people get into the system,” said Mark Pittman, a second year med student at UVA, standing beside a picnic table where his white doctor’s jacket was lying. Flyers distributed stated that medical expenses are the No. 2 cause of homelessness in our area. Even more daunting for the homeless is the sheer process—the paperwork, the jargon—of seeking medical care. Between UVA and the free clinic there is plenty of inexpensive, even free care, for the homeless if they can just wade through the system.

That is where Charlottesville Health Access will come into play. “We are a natural link,” said Pittman. He is one of the students who will help the homeless navigate the medical world.

As Pittman talked, Lebowitz walked up with a tin of chicken tenders in hand courtesy of Raising Cane’s. The 20 students milling about quickly descended on the free fare as he announced the night’s agenda. Some students would go with him to paint the Beta Bridge for the homeless while others would remain behind and write on posterboard. A few minutes later, Lebowitz sauntered off with a small coterie of kids as the remaining group started to plaster stickers on the white placards and think up proper slogans that both Jews and Gentiles could appreciate.

“How about ‘Jesus was homeless’?” one suggested.

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