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(Photo/Nick Lopez)
(Photo/Nick Lopez)

“UNLV Community Aids the Homeless through Holiday Season, and Year Long”

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While some UNLV students are able to afford $5 pumpkin spice lattes, there are other people just a few feet away from campus who hold cardboard signs asking for food or money.

November brings the holidays, midterms and National Hungry and Homelessness Awareness week that occurred from Nov. 15 to 23.

UNLV’s students and staff members regularly interact with the valley’s homeless population and for many of them, their jobs and degrees require them to.

The homeless population benefits from free dental hygiene work from UNLV’s dental department. Last spring, the architecture department had students develop a new mobile housing design for those without a home.

Students in Greenspun’s social work program volunteer hundreds of hours to help the homeless population and others who are needy as part of their degree. UNLV’s Center for Academic Enrichment is federally funded and works closely with solving one aspect of homelessness.

Programs such as Gear Up, focus on getting low-income and at-risk youth middle school and high school students in Las Vegas to go on to post-secondary education, though not always specifically at UNLV.

“It is our goal to help educate these students so that the grades don’t go down and they drop out, so they don’t live out on the streets,” said Peggy Marlow, director of Adult Education Services and Talent Search at The Center for Academic Enrichment.

The center is funded and evaluated by the U.S. Department of Education where they have exceeded their objectives by working closely with the students.

“No one talks about college to these students because there is no one. No one motivates and impresses on them that they can.” Marlow said. “That ‘yes you are college material.’”

Staff members from these programs have offices at the school. They monitor the grades of the at-risk and poverty stricken students.

Staff visits three to four times a week and have four interviews—two in the fall and two in the spring—with students at seven middle schools and six high schools.

Occasionally, some of these students struggle with homelessness.

That is when the center sends them to social workers or partners them with UNLV social-worker students.

Students studying social work are required to volunteer as part of the research and service component for their majors.

These students provide over 200 hours of interface with nonprofit agencies, said Ramona Denby Brinson, a professor in UNLV’s social work department.

“The homeless population is no different than you and I. There are lots of different faces of the homeless. There are a lot of youths. Lots of foster care children can outgrow the system and become homeless,” Brinson said. “There are various images of the homeless; not just the stereotypes which we need to dispel. There are kids. There are young mothers with children who are homeless.”

Several different academic departments at UNLV are involved in helping the homeless, including this department and the dental school, Brinson said. UNLV’s social-worker program has strong partnerships and assists lots of different agencies.

“It’s more than education. Education is a part of it, but it’s not just education. If someone has instability to physical and mental health a job won’t do them any good,” said Brinson, who practiced social work in Clark County. There she ran into a huge number of the homeless at UMC.

“It’s a small part of a larger problem. We need a multipronged approach. A huge part of it is health and stability.”

Multiple departments at UNLV teach students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom to aid the homeless.

Even if students are not a part of an organization, department or school that works with the homeless, they can volunteer to help the homeless especially during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week.

An annual event in Las Vegas, The Project Homeless Connect focuses on not only helping those who are currently homeless, but those at risk for homelessness and they needed 700 volunteers this year.

These events always need volunteers. Registration and more information could be found in the United Way of Southern Nevada’s website.

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