Volume 96, Issue 20
Wednesday October 2, 2002

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Homelessness course brings dose of reality

By Jessica Leeder
Gazette Staff

In the latest attempt to give Western students a reality check, one professor is putting her students in touch with a very real part of London – the homeless community.

Inspired by the streets of New York City and her experiences working with homeless children, Amanda Grzyb, a sessional instructor in the faculties of information and media studies and English, is the creator of what may be Western's edgiest new course

"Representing Homelessness," a half-course for media, information and technoculture students, is aimed at putting students in touch with the realities of homelessness, as well as creating awareness of how homelessness is represented in various media.

"When I first taught this course in the [United States], I found a lot of students came to class with the idea that homelessness is a new problem, something that exploded in the 1980s," Grzyb said. "It is definitely not a new problem."

Part of her mission is to begin to dispel the popular stereotypes that have come to surround homeless people, she explained.

"There seems to be this idea that homeless people are all substance abusers, single mothers, that they have mental problems or they are indigenous. Students taking this class are going to realize things are not so," Grzyb said.

Grzyb also noted there is a large segment of the homeless community often ignored by the media.

"Over 40 per cent of the homeless population is made up of women and children," she said. "A large segment of these people are invisible to the media."

As part of the course requirements, students will each serve two hours of community service at one of five shelter locations in the city. Class participants are divided among the Cross-Zone Youth Shelter, Sisters of St. Joseph, a transitional home, Women's Community House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence and the Salvation Army Men's Hostel and Men's Mission.

"It is all about expanding yourself beyond the gates of Western," said Carolyn Smale, co-ordinator of volunteer services at Women's Community House. "If you spend so many months over the course of four years in London, why not really get to know your community? This is definitely not a bubble. It is a stark reality that violence exists and impacts women and children."

"The students who come here are just like fresh air. They're open-minded; they're not judging the victims," Smale said.

Marnie Shainhouse is a fourth-year MIT student taking Grzyb's course.

"I thought it would be something interesting – different from all of the other courses," Shainhouse said. "I expect to become more aware of homelessness and make others more aware."

–with files from Kasia Iglinski


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