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Thursday, July 07, 2022

UF student sees increased interest in helping homeless

Dirk Sampselle said he didn't expect 1,000 college students to care about homeless issues.

But when 1,000 UF students volunteered at Gainesville's "Homeless Night Out and Service Fair" last week, Sampselle, student liaison to the County Commission, said he felt encouraged to continue his work.

"It was a landmark, but it will soon be the norm," he said.

Students participating represented Habitat for Humanity and nine fraternities and sororities.

Sampselle, a political science senior, organized the volunteer project so students could help with the fight against homelessness.

"It was a way for students to go out there and break down those barriers," Sampselle said. "Homeless people really aren't that different."

Getting to interact with the homeless enabled volunteers to get a different perspective, he said.

"They're just kind of shunned just because they're homeless," Sampselle said. "A lot of them, it's not really a fault of their own. It's just how fate turned out for them."

Volunteers helped with food stamp applications, career searches and housing information, he said.

A donation competition took place from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1 among Greek participants. UF's chapter of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity was awarded the 2007 Community Service Award for Most Charitable Organization for their donations, Sampselle said.

He said he plans to have a ",1 fundraiser" next semester to raise ,40,000 for a student-run homeless shelter.

Sampselle said he wants the shelter to be built by students and incorporate different UF colleges, student organizations and local government officials in the process.

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People should want to return to an era where helpfulness and generosity is key, he said.

"I don't think that's too hard to revive," Sampselle said. "You just have to go about it the right way."

While Sampselle said there has been an increase in student interest in homeless issues, Gator Homeless Coalition member Bryan Konrad said his organization, a homeless advocacy group, hasn't seen an increase in participation.

Konrad, a sociology junior, said the coalition is frustrated by city and university policies on the homeless.

The coalition is "laying low," Konrad said.

Despite setbacks, they serve dinner at the Downtown Plaza on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., he said.

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