Communication & Social Action Conference promotes culture of caring for homelessness
Phillip Tompkins said Wednesday evening he was upset to retire from being a professor because he felt like it was his life calling.
That is, until he started a new journey with volunteering at the St. Francis Center for the homeless in Denver, Colorado.
Now, Tompkins, author of “Who Is My Neighbor? Communicating and Organizing to End Homelessness,” has a new calling, and he said he is an abolitionist with a capital ‘A’ when it comes to fighting for the issue of homelessness.
“In the first year I started volunteering (at St. Francis), seven homeless people were murdered, and that’s what it took for the police to consider it a crime,” he said. “That’s what it took? Seven people were decapitated. If seven cocker spaniels were decapitated, it would had already been taken care of. Homeless people are not treated as equal human beings.”
Tompkins spoke to a full auditorium in the Moore Hall Kiva Wednesday as the keynote speaker in the 14th Annual Communication and Social Action Conference. This year’s conference topic was “Creating a Culture of Care: Who? Why? How?”
The communications and dramatic arts department hosts the event each year, and graduate student Cally Klimczak said homelessness is a pertinent topic in the community.
“The theme of creating a culture of care is something that can interest anyone in the community,” the St. Ignace native said.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Kathy Ling started the presentation by introducing Tompkins, who has volunteered at the homeless shelter in Denver for more than 15 years and is active in the community to work toward ending the challenging issue of homelessness.
Junior Nicolette Cummings said she thinks there should be a homeless shelter in Mount Pleasant, because it’s definitely an issue that is kept silent in the community.
“There is a negative stigma that is associated with homelessness, but it can affect anyone at any time,” the Rapid City native said. “You never know when you might lose your job or when things can happen. We need to help people in the community.”
Tompkins said many “guests,” which is what he calls the people of his shelter, are suffering from addiction or mental illness, but not all.
“We are providing a haven for anyone that might need it,” Tompkins said.
Tompkins said he doesn’t necessarily like the term “homeless,” because he believes they are actually just “houseless” or, as the people in India refer to the homeles, “roofless.”
“A man once came in and used the shower and asked me for ‘smell good,’ which is after shave or cologne. He said to me, ‘when you put it on, they don’t know you’re homeless,’” Tompkins said.
Troy freshman Brandon Cochiaosue attended Tompkins’ speech because he enjoys doing volunteer work and learning more about providing service to those in need.
“It’s good to get involved in the community, and when I volunteer at the soup kitchen it really puts it into perspective, which is important,” Cochiaosue said.
Tompkins addressed the fact that Americans are losing social capital, which is a serious contributing factor to the problem of homelessness.
“I’ve heard the important thing in life is switching of pronouns, it’s a matter of going from ‘I’ to ‘we,’” he said.
Since Tompkins has been active toward ending the problem of homelessness in Denver, he has seen major changes in the way things are going in the community.
There has been national recognition for the recently-started program Housing First, which is an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible, according to the project’s website.
“It’s actually saving our government money, less people in jails, the emergency room and rehab,” Tompkins said. “I am so encouraged.”
Cummings said she would be happy to see a homeless shelter in Mount Pleasant, because she believes it would keep homeless people safer, since they wouldn’t be out on the streets.
“This is definitely something to pay attention to,” she said.
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