The Homeless: how they affect the Wolfson Campus
Mark, a 27-year-old homeless man, is restless as he stands in the sun, his blond hair gleaming. He balances his footing on mismatched roller blades, smiling.
“I had it all when I was younger,” Mark said.
He asked that his real name be withheld due to problems with the police.
Mark became homeless when he began using drugs, as he says, “sniffing his paychecks” away.
Mark lives around downtown; he uses the Metromover to get around, and scavenges food from local restaurants.
Mark— like many homeless people— spends a lot of time around the Wolfson Campus.
Ernesto Santiago, a part-time dispatcher for public safety since 2001, said the homeless have been on campus for as long as he has worked there.
“It’s been a while,” Santiago said. “It’s been years.”
The homeless situation has affected many on campus, most notably in situations where the homeless panhandle.
“I get really scared and annoyed when a homeless person comes to ask for money,” said Francys Chavez, 19, a business administration major. “It is not fair that while we are working hard every day, someone has it this easy, getting drunk and sleeping all day.”
Santiago says that any homeless caught panhandling on campus property is escorted away.
Some feel that public safety should do more about the situation.
“I think that the homeless situation on campus should be regulated,” said SGA treasurer Florencia Ancewicz, 19. “Security should do more to kick them out.”
According to Santiago, the homeless are not really a problem. However, there have been cases where “things got out of hand,” and some homeless have had to be removed from campus.
For example, homeless people are sometimes caught using the restrooms to wash and clean themselves.
“We get some homeless people [coming] into campus to wash themselves off,” Gabriela Narvaez, student organization coordinator said. “Some of them are very discrete, they won’t make a mess. Others make a huge mess.”
Santiago said that they usually catch many homeless trying to sneak into the restrooms early in the morning. When they catch them trying to go into the restrooms, they escort them off campus.
But Narvaez said that there are limitations to what security can do. “If one of them sneaks in,” Narvaez said, “they don’t have any control.”
When Mark was asked about the homeless using Wolfson Campus restrooms, he said, while laughing: “When you got to go, you got to go.”
Some students like Robert King, 20, a music business major feel lukewarm toward the homeless: “I feel bad,” King said, “but I believe they did it to themselves, so they have to pay the consequences.”
Sam Gil, vice-president of marketing for Camillus House said that the issue of homelessness is not so simple.
“You have to understand that people don’t become homeless just because,” Gil said.
Gil said that most people become homeless when they can’t afford all their expenses and sacrifice housing because it’s usually the largest expense.
He added that the relationship between substance abuse and homelessness is controversial; while rates of alcohol and drug abuse are quite high among the homeless, substance abuse is not the sole cause.
Camillus House has provided services to the poor and homeless population of Miami-Dade County since its founding in 1960.
According to Camillus House, the total number of homeless people in Miami-Dade County on an average night is 1,347.
Some students, like Ancewicz think that the proximity of Camillus House to Wolfson Campus might be the reason for the high numbers of homeless on campus.
“It’s not the nicest thing to see homeless people looking through trash and asking for money,” Ancewicz said. “But I guess everything will be better once they move Camillus House up north.”
Gil thinks otherwise.
“People say that because of [Camillus House], downtown is bad, full of homeless, [and] dirty,” Gil said, “but I think that if we were not here, this place would be worse.”
Gil tells the story of a homeless man named Giovan, who at 21, was mugged and almost killed.
“He had no money, family or friends who could help him, and nowhere to go. He was being put on the streets with rubber tubing dangling from his head, to drain blood from his swollen brain,” Gil said.
Camillus House fed him, housed him, and provided him with medical treatment. They even got him dentures, to fix the broken teeth he received during his mugging.
While some homeless have brighter days ahead of them, others are not so lucky.
“If I could go back in time,” Mark said, “I would've never started this.”
He rocks back and forth on his mismatched skates, looking up at the now-cloudy sky, blond hair no longer gleaming.
“Nah, It’s too late for me,” he said. “This is home now.”