It’s that time of the year again, folks. That’s right, the time when a handful of students embark on the “Two-Dollar a Day Challenge” so they can feel like they’re making a difference, even though all they’re really doing is trivializing a serious issue.
For those of you who don’t know, the Two-Dollar Challenge is a week-long game that some students play every year where they camp out on Ball Circle and pretend to live in a third world country the way little kids camp out in their backyards and pretend to be adventurers.
They start with two dollars each day and aren’t allowed to use showers or other common amenities that we take for granted in our lives. It’s all meant to simulate what it’s like to be destitute, but none of it even comes close. Students are allowed to accept donations, for instance, meaning that any time things are just too hard for them, they can just get someone to stop by with a sandwich and a drink and make it all better.
Students can also solicit odd jobs from fellow students to earn more money and work around the $2/day limit, another concession that sounds in the spirit of simulating the life of a homeless person, but once again totally misses the point.
Camping out on Ball Circle, sneaking showers in, and drawing funny faces so someone will buy you a frozen yogurt from the Underground does nothing but turn the plight of third world countries into a novelty, almost like an anti-vacation. And at the end of it all, you get to go back to the warmth of your dorm room with a rugged sense of, “Yeah, I’ve been homeless before.”
No, you haven’t.
All you did was camp out with friends in a well-lit environment during an unseasonably warm April, protected by a sea of blue lights, campus police, and fellow students. You all huddled under your big blue tarp together, illuminated by the glow of your iPhones as you posted on Twitter about your “struggles.” And even then, you still cheated by taking showers, spending more than $2/day, and getting your friends to bring you food.
You didn’t take to the streets for a week, experiencing the real dangers of being homeless. You didn’t have to scrounge through dumpsters behind restaurants for scraps or stand on the side of the road for hours, just holding up a sign. You didn’t have to take your chances hitchhiking. You didn’t get beaten for the fun of it by a sadistic passerby, or told to fight another homeless person on camera for a little change.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently reported that there are still an estimated 600,000 homeless Americans today. Their life expectancy is over 30 years lower than an average citizen and men make up 85 percent of the total homeless population, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, those homeless citizens are 15 times more likely to be assaulted than the wider population, according to BBC News.
So rather than turning being homeless into a game where you try to look high and mighty amongst your friends, why don’t you try volunteering at a homeless shelter? Or calling your Congressman to demand more support behind H.R. 3528: Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act of 2011 that would add crimes against the homeless under the umbrella of hate crimes?
Or why don’t you just raise money for the homeless instead of turning their lives into a novelty?