The New York Public Interest Research Group emphasized homelessness and hunger in an event on March 26, featuring a short documentary and discussion in Powdermaker Hall.
The group elaborated on the significance of the two issues in New York while students discussed their own view on homelessness and food insecurity, after the documentary.
The documentary, produced by Russia Today, was titled “Big City Life” and examined the lives of New Yorkers around homelessness, including those displaced.
More than 6,000 people are homeless in New York City, according to the Coalition of the Homeless. This was cited as the “the highest level ever recorded.” The number of homeless people in shelters has risen 73 percent since 2002.
During his tenure from 2002 to 2013, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not believe there were major issues with homelessness. He said on Feb. 19, 2013, “no one is sleeping in the streets.”
One homeless man, Victor, spoke on the lack of government investment in affordable housing and the poor conditions in homeless shelters. He said rapes in shelters made it difficult for people to stay.
“A lot of the shelters aren’t good. That’s why you see a lot of homeless people in the street. They feel safer out here,” Victor said.
Michael Ennes, a chef for the Broadway Presbyterian Church Soup Kitchen, discussed the problem of food insecurity.
“When I grew up here in New York in the 1950s and 1960s, there were three soup kitchens in New York,” Ennes said. “Today, there are 1,200 [soup kitchens] and over 800 [food] pantries and other emergency food programs. That’s how much the need has grown.”
One in six NYC residents was found to be “food insecure,” along with one in five children, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
In addition, 76 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens in NYC had an increase of traffic in Nov. 2013 compared to the previous two months, according to the Food Bank for New York City.
Katarzyna Szpak, a 21-year-old junior and NYPIRG member, helped organize the event. She spoke on how those in attendance would “walk away with their own meaning,” but emphasized a key point she felt was present in the documentary.
“The homeless aren’t an accessory of New York City. They’re real people,” Szpak said.
After the documentary, audience members discussed what they felt was important in the screening.
“There are different situations people go through, such as being handicapped or having mental issues. [These are] different cases we can’t handle. What we can do is protest and get involved,” Somto Egonu, a 19-year-old junior said.
Tiffany Brown, project coordinator for NYPIRG on hunger and homelessness, also assisted the discussion. She felt the entire event provided a constructive point on the issue.
“A lot of times people do hunger and homelessness [events] and reach out in a feel good type of event. But I also want people to question society or question their traditional ways of thinking,” she said.